How a tiny device is providing outsized pain relief

Health
Man struggling with knee pain

A tiny device that stimulates sensory nerves along the spine is providing outsized relief to some people who suffer from chronic pain.
Called dorsal root ganglion therapy, the treatment works by using electrical impulses to stimulate the ganglia, or groups of sensory nerves, located along the spinal column, says Dr. Channing Willoughby, who specializes in pain management at Tidelands Health Pain Management Services at Murrells Inlet.
Each group of the nerves is associated with pain in different parts of the body, he says, so specific areas can be targeted to help the patient find relief.
“Previous methods involved more broad coverage, but this is more focused,” Dr. Willoughby says. “That’s the advantage – our ability to focus on more specific areas of pain than we could with other spinal cord treatment.”
The therapy is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, which is typically caused by malfunctioning nerves after an injury or trauma to a specific part of the body.
Dr. Willoughby says patients at his practice have been seeing significant results from below-the-waist pain in areas such as the groin, knee, foot and ankle.
“Patients have had great relief with chronic pain issues that have failed other therapies,” he says. “For people who’ve lived with persistent pain for years, the treatment has improved quality of life and enabled patients to enjoy activities that were previously too painful to perform.”
People diagnosed with CRPS should talk to their physician to see if the therapy might be a good fit, Dr. Willoughby says.
Patients in the therapy undergo a procedure to implant a tiny device that sends out mild electrical pulses. Thin wires carry the pulses to the dorsal root ganglia associated with the location of the pain. Patients can adjust the intensity of the pulses through a handheld device similar to a remote control.
Temporary devices can be installed first to test whether the implanted unit will be effective in managing their pain.

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