Reigning in Pain

By Marjorie Wertz

Monday, November 14, 2005

Severe chest and spinal pain kept George Wilkinson awake at night. He couldn't breathe properly. So after five weeks he sought help through his primary care physician and his diabetic specialist.

"I was diagnosed with 'band pain' caused by diabetic neuropathy," said Wilkinson, 53, of Greensburg. "My diabetes was causing my nerve endings to die," and pain was the result.

Wilkinson, who has had Type 2 diabetes for 10 years, controls the disease through daily insulin injections. But to deal with the pain, his physician recommended pain management treatments.

Chronic pain persists even after an illness has been treated or an injury has healed. In addition to the hurt, it also may cause tense muscles, limited mobility, lack of energy or changes in appetite.

"Initially, acute problems can be treated with pain medications, anti-inflammatories, or some sort of physical therapy," Dayo said.
"Chronic pain sufferers can use those exact treatments, but physicians also use steroid injections and other procedures that typically involve an injection to treat the pain."

Because Wilkinson's severe pain wasn't helped by injections, Dayo recommended a spinal cord stimulator. The device transmits electrical impulses to the nervous system, blocking the sensation of pain.
A wire, or "lead," is connected to a small power source surgically implanted under the patient's skin. Low-level electrical signals are transmitted through the lead to the spinal cord or to specific nerves, preventing pain signals from reaching the brain. A magnetic remote control is used to turn the current on and off, or adjust its intensity.

"Some people think we can get rid of all their pain, but that's not the case in every situation," Dayo said. "We consider the implant successful if we can get rid of 50 (percent) or 60 percent of their pain." For Wilkinson, a trial unit worked so well that he had a permanent stimulator implanted last year. It runs on batteries that are expected to last between three and five years.