Chronic back pain affects the lives of millions of people in the UK and worldwide. Many of its sufferers are dependent on painkillers but these can be addictive and have harmful side effects when used long term. Pain related medical expenses and lost work productivity cost the nation many billions of pounds. The day to day suffering of many, many people is enormous. But a new nerve stimulating implant has been developed and has now been approved for use in the UK.
How does it help treat 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 pain 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.
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