Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates


Nerve Stimulation: A Drug-Free Pain Relief Option

If you suffer from a chronic pain condition, then you may rely on prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers to help you get through the day. However, these medications may not be enough to control your pain condition completely, or they may have side effects that are difficult to live with. While many non-drug treatments for chronic pain exist, nerve stimulation is an effective treatment for many types of pain. 

How does nerve stimulation work? When you suffer from a chronic pain condition, the nerves in the painful area of your body transmit pain signals to the nerves in your spinal cord. After these signals reach your spinal cord, they travel up to your brain where your brain then interprets these signals as the sensation of pain. If these pain signals are interrupted before they reach your brain, then you feel less or even no pain.

Nerve stimulation works by interrupting pain signals before they reach your brain. Some nerve stimulation treatments interrupt the signals at their source, while others interrupt them when they reach the spinal cord. 

Read on to learn about two types of nerve stimulation treatments, how they work, and the pain conditions they can help treat. 

Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS)

One non-invasive nerve stimulation treatment option for pain is percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS). If you have tried transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), then realize that PENS and TENS are completely different treatments. 

TENS is performed by placing small electrodes on top of the skin and then sending electrical impulses to the electrodes. The electrical impulses interrupt pain signals at their source before they travel to your spinal cord. 

While PENS also targets pain at its source using electrical impulses, these impulses are delivered differently during a PENS session. When PENS is performed, electrical impulses come from fine needles inserted into the skin of the painful area of your body. 

Transmitting electrical impulses through these fine needles allows the impulses to target deeper tissues and nerves than what TENS treatments can target. In addition, the placement of these fine needles triggers an endorphin release in your body similar to the endorphin released triggered by acupuncture needles.

One 30-minute session of PENS can relieve pain, stiffness, and muscle spasms for up to 72 hours. While PENS can be performed as a standalone treatment, it can also happen before other types of physical therapy to lessen any pain during your physical therapy session. 

PENS therapy can treat back pain, neck pain, joint pain, neuropathic pain conditions, and other types of chronic pain. However, it is also a great option for pain from muscle strains and other short-term pain conditions. 

Spinal Cord Stimulation

If you want a more permanent solution to your pain, then you may want to consider spinal cord stimulation. This nerve stimulation treatment differs greatly from TENS and PENS. While TENS and PENS are outpatient pain control treatments, spinal cord stimulation can happen any time you desire around the clock after a surgeon implants device components into your body. These devices also differ in how they control pain. 

While TENS and PENS send electrical currents directly to the source of the pain, spinal cord simulators instead send this electrical current to the spinal cord to block pain signals in the spine before they reach the brain. 

While many types of spinal cord stimulation devices exist, all have three main components: one electrical impulse generator typically implanted underneath the skin in the abdomen or buttock area, thin wires called leads that run from the impulse generator to your spinal cord, and a remote control.

Spinal cord stimulators allow you to customize your pain control treatment. If you have a day when you don’t experience much pain, then you don’t have to use the remote control to trigger the unit at all. However, if you have a severe pain day, you can trigger the unit often to relieve this pain. 

Since not everyone’s pain responds well to spinal cord stimulation, your doctor will first have you perform a trial of the recommended device before implanting it permanently. During this trial run, you will wear the electrical impulse generator outside of your body on a special belt.

This impulse generator will be attached to one or more leads that are not implanted under your skin just yet. Instead, just their tips will be inserted into the area next to your spinal column called the epidural space and the lead wires will run outside of your body to the impulse generator. 

Once you give the device a trial run, you can decide if you would like to implant the permanent device.

Spinal cord stimulation is a good option for chronic back, leg, and/or arm pain, although your doctor may recommend it for other types of pain. 

If you want more drug-free ways to control your chronic pain condition, then consider nerve stimulation treatments or devices. Contact Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates to discuss your pain condition and treatment options, including nerve stimulation, today.

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