Researchers have found that high-frequency spinal cord stimulation can offer effective pain relief without undesirable side effects. The study, published in the journal Anesthesiology, could offer new hope to the one in four Americans who struggle with chronic pain at some point during their lives.
And for spinal cord injury survivors who need pain relief, spinal cord stimulation may offer new avenues. Research suggests that chronic pain costs the U.S. economy between $500 and $635 billion a year.
What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal cord stimulation therapy (SCS) requires the implantation of a device under the skin. The device emits a tingling skin sensation known as paresthesia, and its electrical signaling interferes with the spinal cord's ability to send pain signals to the brain. The result is temporary pain relief that does not cure the underlying injury, but that does relieve the pain.
The problem with traditional spinal cord stimulation is that many patients find the paresthetic sensation intolerable. Though 50,000 patients undergo the procedure each year, a number of them give up on therapy, annoyed by constant tingling sensations.
A New Type of Spinal Cord Sensation
In an attempt to address the frustrations many patients experience with typical spinal cord stimulation, Professor Leonardo Kapural, the study's lead author, set out to explore an alternative approach. The older spinal cord stimulation relied on frequencies of 40-60 hertz, but the new variety is greatly intensified, delivering stimulation up to 10,000 hertz. Researchers have nicknamed the treatment HF10.
Researchers recruited 171 patients who struggled with chronic leg or back pain. Of these patients, 90 received the newer HF10 therapy, while 81 underwent traditional spinal cord stimulation.
At the end of the three-month trial period, 85% of back pain patients and 83% of leg pain patients who underwent HF10 had experienced a pain reduction of 50% of higher. Just 44% of back pain patients and 56% leg pain patients who underwent traditional stimulation experienced a 50% or greater pain reduction.
Researchers continued the study for 12 months, concluding that HF10 was far more effective than traditional spinal cord therapy. Over half of the HF10 patients said they were “very satisfied” with their pain relief outcomes, compared to just 32% of those who underwent traditional spinal cord stimulation.
Researchers hope that HF10 will become more commonplace. And while it cannot directly treat spinal cord injuries, it may offer new hope to spinal cord injury survivors who are trapped in a cycle of chronic spinal cord pain. Because spinal cord injuries can be an immense source of stress for loved ones, and because that stress can contribute to chronic pain, HF10 may also improve the quality of life for caregivers.