Surgical implants are becoming a powerful weapon in the fight against chronic pain amid the backdrop of the peaking opioid crisis, as doctors look for safer ways to help patients cope with their discomfort.
One of the doctors leading this emerging and important trend is Dr. Nikesh Seth of the Scottsdale, AZ-based Integrated Pain Consultants. Dr. Seth says that dangerous and addictive medications have been used to mask pain for far too long, with disastrous results. He is heartened by the fact that the healthcare industry appears to finally be getting shaken out of its own pill-dependent malaise.
Rather than simply sign off on a prescription, the award-winning Dr. Nikesh Seth, who is a double board-certified anesthesiologist, instead works closely with patients to develop customized plans that attempt to tackle the root cause of their pain, rather than just temporarily blocking its presence.
Among the many treatment options, he will consider are stem cell procedures, steroid injections, radiofrequency ablation, kyphoplasty, and ketamine infusions.
Two other treatments proving to be effective are spinal cord stimulation and intrathecal pumps, two prominent surgical implants that are increasingly being used by medical professionals to combat pain.
Intrathecal Drug Pump
Intrathecal Drug Pumps still involve the administering of pain medication, but deliver it directly to the cerebrospinal fluid, making it far more efficient than oral medication. In fact, the amount of medication needed through such a pump is about 1/300 of that needed through pills.
These pumps can also be programmed to deliver varying amounts of medication at different times throughout the day, allowing patients to up their dosage when pain intensifies. As the dosage is so low, there is little threat of addiction or abuse by the patient.
When the reservoir on the implant which holds the medication is empty, it can be refilled through a simple needle injection administered by a doctor or nurse. The pump can be removed at any time should the patient desire, while the battery needs to be replaced within about five years, depending on usage.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
Similar to radiofrequency ablation and other forms of electrical nerve stimulation, spinal cord stimulation sends low-frequency electrical signals to damaged nerves, in addition to overruling the pain signals still being sent from the affected area to the brain. In the case of SCS however, it is done through an implant rather than ongoing external procedures.
In most cases, there is not one SCS implant, but two, as a pulse generator, which can be recharged through the skin or not require charging at all (but needing eventual replacement instead) is also implanted into the buttocks along with the actual device that delivers the electrical signals.
As with drug pumps, patients are also able to adjust the strength of the spinal cord stimulation implant’s effect as needed through a remote. SCS can also produce a mild tingling sensation which some patients find pleasant according to Dr. Nikesh Seth, though others may find it uncomfortable.