New Method of Delivering Electric Stimulation May Ease Chronic Back Pain

For chronic back pain sufferers who have undergone unsuccessful back surgery, relief may be on the way.  The medical journal, Neurosurgery, reports in their March issue that a new technology has overcome past limitations in the delivery of spinal cord stimulation (SCS), which has already been proven effective at relieving radicular pain. 

Researchers at Poitiers University School of Medicine have developed a new method of electrical stimulation which uses an implanted device with three columns of electrodes to deliver electrical stimulation.  This “tripolar lead,” implanted along the spine, emits a gentle electrical current that produces a feeling of numbness that overrides the pain.   

During testing of this technology, this tripolar lead produced reliable and repeatable numbness in “both bilateral back and leg territories” for nine of the 11 patients tested.  The article reports that the research team evaluated 43 different lead stimulation patterns in order to determine the most effective configuration, ultimately determining that “multicolumn leads” are superior to “single-column configurations.”

Although proven effective in the management of back and leg pain, the study indicates it shows only limited success in the treatment of “axial low back” pain.  However, researchers also note the findings of this study may expand the applications for electrical stimulation. 

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Americans spend about $50 billion on back pain each year.  In addition to compromising the quality of life for so many, back pain also acts as a tremendous burden on employers, as it is also the most common work-related disability.  

The Mayo Clinic explains that causes of chronic back pain can include strains and sprains, fractured vertebrae, or a herniated disk.  Injury and overuse are the most common causes of these back conditions.            

Six months after this study, during a follow up, every patient involved said they were satisfied with the SCS and “reported that they would undergo the same surgery again,” the neurology journal explains.  Based on these results, those struggling with previously untreatable back pain may find renewed hope after believing they may never be able to live pain-free again.