People suffering from chronic pain in the Portland area are finding relief, with the help of electricity.
A relatively simple procedure called spinal cord stimulation made a big difference for Lillian Yun’s quality of life.
“Me not feeling that full pain and being able to sleep for a full night without waking up because of pain, I knew it worked,” said Yun.
Yun had been dealing with chronic pain from a spinal fusion and bulging disc for years, which made even walking around difficult.
She heard about spinal cord stimulation, and managed to get into a clinical trial.
“It’s a procedure in which we implant electrical wires into the spine,” said Dr. Ahmed Raslan, an OHSU neurosurgeon who performed the procedure on Yun. “It works by introducing a signal into the spinal cord that kind of blocks the pain signal. Or if you consider pain electrical information, spinal cord stimulation introduces noise.”
The small, pacemaker-like device, which is implanted surgically just under a patient’s skin, runs on batteries that can last two to seven years.
Yun said the electronic stimulation blocks or masks between 80 percent and 100 percent of her chronic pain.
The procedure was first performed in 1967, but it wasn’t approved by the FDA until 15 years ago.
Despite its effectiveness, Raslan said, it’s still not widely used, and not covered by some insurance companies.
“There is a certain amount of education and a critical mass that needs to be reached that are aware enough of the therapy,” said Raslan.
Raslan sees spinal cord stimulation not only as an effective treatment, but also an alternative to using highly addictive opioids to manage chronic pain.
For Yun, it’s been life-changing, and she recommends other patients with conditions similar to hers to consider it as an option.
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