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Spinal Cord Stimulator Can Relieve Diabetic Neuropathic Pain

Updated on October 30, 2014

The cases of diabetes have been on rise not only in developed countries but also in developing countries and about 15% of diabetic patients suffer from some or the other kind of pain. This is called diabetic neuropathic pain or DNP and is generally described as a stabbing or burning pain, particularly in lower legs and feet and sometimes also in hands and occurs all through the day and often aggravating in the evening or night. It results from abnormal function of the nerve endings, which occurs mostly and partially due to poor circulation. Spinal cord stimulation treatment which is widely used for alleviating chronic pain had not been used so far for DNP. But recently a Dutch researcher, Cecile de Vos, a medical physicist working with Medisch Spectrum Twente Hospital and a PhD student at the University of Twente, studied the effect of this treatment and has observed that the treatment shows great hopes for the diabetics. She observed that the intensity of pain in these patients reduced from an average of eight to two. The pain became manageable and the patients could sleep again and could perform their routine activities. This is a major breakthrough in improving their quality of life.

DNP Can Be Cured With Spinal Cord Stimulation

The treatment involves a device called spinal cord stimulator which is used to exert pulsating electrical signals to the spinal cord. It consists of a pulse generator of small size implanted in the back which sends electric pulses to spinal cord. These pulses get in the way of nerve impulses that bring the feeling of pain, due to which the patient cannot feel the pain.

The fact that DNP is not easy to treat with painkillers prompted the research of De Vos into if spinal cord stimulation treatment could provide relief to patients undergoing DNP.

De Vos performed international doctoral research recently at the Department of Neurosurgery in Medisch Spectrum Twente Hospital and studied the new treatment alternative for pain arising due to diabetes mellitus.

How Spinal Cord Stimulation Works

Spinal Cord Stimulator For Pain

Spinal cord stimulator’s stimulation electrode is implanted in the epidural space (spinal canal’s outermost part). The pulse generator is implanted subcutaneously. The system looks similar to a pacemaker, the difference being that the pulse is transmitted to spinal cord instead of heart. By stimulation of the nerves, the pain signals are felt much less or sometimes even not at all. As told by De Vos spinal cord stimulation has been in use in the Netherlands since long for patients suffering from hard to treat pain, for example after back surgery. However, it was not used yet to treat DNP.

Spinal Cord Stimulator For DNP

This made Medisch Spectrum Twente think of conducting a major research project. De Vos along with neurosurgeon Mathieu Lenders requested other hospitals in the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Belgium to participate in the study. As many as 60 patients have participated in the research. As per their referring doctors, these participating patients could not be treated for DNP. But they still showed an average pain score of 8 on a scale calibrated from 0 to 10 (0 for no pain and 10 being the maximum pain imaginable).

Encouraging Results

The participating patients were separated into two groups: a spinal cord stimulation group and a control group wherein patients got all the regular treatment and care. The first group with spinal cord stimulator treatment experienced far less pain after a month - reducing from an average of eight to two. This relief lasted for six months after that. The other group who was not given the spinal cord stimulator showed, on an average, no reduction in pain.

Thus now diabetic patients with unbearable pain can take a sigh of relief that they can get their pain reduced by the spinal cord stimulator. And now, a new MRI-compatible spinal cord stimulator too has been developed by researchers. So, now there is no need to undergo a surgery prior to MRI to remove the stimulator, which has increased its convenience. In short, a lot is being done to relieve your pain!

Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant


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