Mechanical Device Implanted Near Spinal Cord Helps Ease Pain In Patients

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is a new treatment for people who suffer with pain for months, or even years.

There is a pain-controlling procedure that doesn’t involve prescriptions for pain medication.

This new treatment is a mechanical device that’s implanted in the back. Electrical impulses ease pain, and for one woman, the procedure has changed her life.

Christy Kelly, a baker and cake decorator, has pain in her left ankle because of a chronic condition called complex regional pain syndrome.

“I stepped on a rock and twisted my foot,” she said.

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Her symptoms started a year-and-a-half after surgery to fix her torn ankle tendon.

“It would swell and turn colors. It was purple and kind of bluish,” Kelly said.

This kind of chronic pain can happen after an injury or surgery and is often very debilitating.

“It’s very difficult to stand and to bake and to be able to decorate cakes and cookies and things of such, without having to sit down and stop,” Kelly said.

Long-term medication is an option, but sometimes the side-effects can be overwhelming.

Implanted devices, like spinal cord stimulators, interrupt pain signals going to the brain, and instead of pain, you feel vibration.

Now, a new kind of device called a dorsal root ganglion stimulator, or DRG, is implanted just outside the spinal cord.

It sends electrical impulses to only a bundle of nerves carrying pain signals just outside the spinal cord.

“It’s FDA approved for complex regional pain syndrome of the knee, foot and ankle or the grain,” said pain specialist Dr. Jack Kabazie.

After trying steroid shots, plasma injections, a boot and a brace, Kelly decided to give the DRG stimulator a chance.

“I had nothing left to lose. I’ve been in this condition for a year now,” Kelly said. “So it was the last thing we had left to try.”

In a one-hour outpatient procedure, it’s done in an operating suite under sedation.

“Because it’s right on the sensory ganglion, instead of feeling an overriding vibration in the area where you have pain, you just feel absence of pain,” said Kabazie.

Kelly had a temporary DRG stimulator placed and responded wonderfully.

“What I’m looking forward to the most is being able to go see my children, being able to bake and decorate and stand up and just life in general,” she said.

Complications can include infection, allergic reaction and scarring, and there can be mechanical complications like wires disconnecting or battery failure.

The stimulator recently became available in the United States. Doctors say it could become an important alternative to opioids for controlling pain.

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