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Technology a Strong Weapon in the Opioid Battle


Though chronic pain is most commonly experienced in the back or the legs, pain anywhere in the body that has lasted for six months or longer is considered chronic. In America today, it is estimated that upwards of 100 million people suffer the devastating effects of chronic pain. It is the primary cause of disability among adults in the United States at a cost of about $600 billion, annually.

Historically, the most common treatment for chronic pain has been opioid medication – commonly referred to as painkillers. But over the past few years, opioid overuse and dependency have been on a significant rise - making serious headlines as an epidemic. Research has also demonstrated that long-term dependence on opioid medications for pain relief has little effect on the actual improvement of an individual’s function. A significant portion of the responsibility to combat this epidemic is on all physicians, especially those of us who are chronic pain specialists.

Unfortunately, severe, chronic pain in an individual remains largely misunderstood and therefore, undertreated in the United States. Of the many millions of people who suffer from chronic pain, it is estimated that only about 600,000 of them see a pain management specialist for expert treatment of the condition that is causing them pain. As a pain specialist, I frequently tell my patients that one way to begin to take control of their pain is to understand that all pain is in the brain. What this means is that chronic pain is very strongly influenced by how the brain processes the body’s pain signals.

One way to help “disrupt” the body’s pain signals to the brain is through the use of Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS). SCS was first developed in the 1970s and is a safe and established chronic pain treatment that delivers energy to the spinal cord via small wires in the back. Through these wires, small electrical impulses are delivered to the pathways of the spinal cord that sense pain – effectively altering the pain signal that travels to the brain. Modern technological advances have made SCS an even better option for chronic pain management than ever before. In our office, we utilize a system called HF10, which is for people who suffer from chronic back, trunk or limb pain. This procedure can help people achieve long-term relief and regain the ability to live independently. Traditional spinal cord stimulation devices deliver chronic pain-masking electrical impulses through the delivery of tingling or prickling sensations that many patients consider a nuisance. We often prefer HF10, because unlike the others, it delivers pain relief without the use of these sensations to do it. HF10 is FDA-approved and has also published two-year safety and effectiveness data in the journal Neurosurgery.

Medication alone should not be a blanket treatment recommendation for every patient with pain. Opioids may be appropriate in acute pain (such as after an injury or surgery), but should be considered short-term. With chronic pain we need to consider alternatives to these kinds of medications to eliminate their need or to dramatically reduce their use. Fortunately, chronic pain management has come a long way in making available options that can help patients avoid opioids altogether in some cases. HF10 is one such option. If you or a loved one is experiencing chronic back or extremity pain, get in touch with us to find out if this treatment modality might be right for you.


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