Researchers have found that around 28 million people in the UK are living in chronic pain. This figure is almost three times the number that the experts had presumed and has been worked out by experts examining thousands of medical studies.
The team from Imperial College London predicted that, with an ageing population, the toll would rise in the future. The high numbers are thought to be as a result of the prevalence of back problems and arthritis. Dr Alan Fayaz and his team combined data from 19 studies involving around 140,000 people to estimate the extent of the problem.
What did the data suggest about pain?
- 43% of the estimated 65 million population experience some form of chronic pain
- 14% of adults live with chronic widespread pain where the whole body may be affected
- 8% of adults in the UK suffer from chronic nerve pain
- 5.5% experience fibromyalgia
- Women are more likely to be affected by chronic pain than men, irrespective of pain type or age
Pain is often a symptom of another underlying medical condition and doctors say it should be seen as a disease in it own right and needs to be taken more seriously. Charities have repeatedly called for more research into the subject as it causes so much misery for so many people.
Olivia Belle, from the charity Arthritis Research UK (Now VersusArthritis), which part-funded the work, said:
“Although we may not be able to see it, living in pain, day in and day out, can have a devastating impact on people’s lives, affecting their independence, mobility and ability to stay in work. There is also, unsurprisingly, a direct link between chronic pain and depression.
“If we are going to address this growing need, we need better pain management and better treatments to relieve pain.”
A major issue is the lack of effective treatments for back pain and joint problems. Doctors are having to rely on prescribing powerful pain-killers such as tramadol, morphine or oxycodone. Unfortunately, these come with possible side-effects and often provide minimal benefit. While pharmaceutical firms have made progress in treating complex diseases such as cancer and heart disease, the problem of joint pain has remained a stumbling block.
A New Implant to Treat Chronic Back Pain
In a recent development, a new implant has been approved for use in the UK to treat chronic back pain.
The wireless device is called the Stimwave Freedom Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) implant. Spinal cord stimulation or neuromodulation has been approved for more than 30 years in the US as an effective treatment for chronic forms of pain.
A small device was inserted into the body to stimulate the peripheral nerves or the spinal cord itself. This altered the pain signals thus providing effective, quick and efficient relief. However, in the past, these devices were bulky with wire connections and a power source and involved a complicated, risky and time consuming surgical procedure. These also put the patient at risk of complications such as infection and device failure.
How is this new device different?
The Stimwave implant is thinner than a matchstick and only measures between 1.33mm in diameter and 3mm in length. It can be implanted into the target area through a standard gauge needle in a ten minute procedure thus eliminating many of the previous risks.
The tiny device reacts to impulses from an external power source that can be worn on a simple band or kept in a pocket. This can be programmed to change the intensity of the therapy via a smartphone app using a Bluetooth connection.
What are the advantages of this device?
- It is the world’s smallest and first wirelessly powered micro-technology neuromodulation device for spinal cord stimulation.
- It has been approved for the treatment of chronic leg and back pain.
- It is very small thus making the insertion process easier, faster and less risky.
- The recovery period is greatly enhanced.
- It is held in place by miniature anchors which only allow the device to move when the patient moves.
- It will be almost invisible to the patient and should allow freedom and painless movement.
- It contains no lethal or toxic substances making it 100% safe to be implanted in the body.
- It contains no internal batteries thus reducing the risk of toxic battery leaks.
- It is a long term and permanent implant thus eliminating the need to replace the device or the batteries as in other devices.
- A patient using the implant can safely undergo a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
According to a new study reported in Pain Medicine, men and women who had not responded to other treatments, found it highly effective.
Dr Adnan Al-Kaisy, a consultant in pain medication and neuromodulation at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London, has treated a number of patients with the device in a pre-launch trial.
“We are delighted with the results we have seen,” he says. “It is an extremely small device and is implanted quickly and cheaply.”
“It has now been approved for use in the UK, and from next month we will be carrying out a large number of these procedures, not just for back pain, but for nerve injury and overactive bladder. It is a simple idea, but it is backed up by some very smart technology.”
He concludes by saying: “This is very much cutting edge technology. Patients can be treated in a day, and it is very cost effective.”
The device can also be used to treat migraines. For this treatment, it is injected over the occipital nerve that runs from the top of the spinal cord up through the scalp.
If you suffer from chronic back pain and would like advice from the Backcare charity, please click on this link to their website.
Hip pain causes misery for many thousands of people. If you are one of these, click on this link to find out about the possible causes and treatment options available to you.
For more help and advice from Versus Arthritis, you can click on this link to their website.
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