Chronic pain can be crippling, affecting every aspect of your life. But it can also be hard to treat. Traditionally, many doctors have simply prescribed strong pain medications, but these come with their own side effects. Another option some doctors offer is invasive surgeries. But there is a third option. A growing number of elite practices are offering patients non-surgical, non-medication treatments for chronic pain.
While chronic pain is a symptom of a wide variety of diseases and injuries, some causes of chronic pain are more common than others. Experts like those at TrustDALE certified Pain Solutions Treatment Centers can create custom treatments for all kinds of pain. Here are some of the most common:
Spinal Stenosis is a condition in which the spaces in your spine become narrowed, putting pressure on the nerves that travel through them. The most common cause of spinal stenosis is wear and tear related to osteoarthritis. Other conditions or injuries can also narrow the space in the spine, causing spinal stenosis.
The space in the spine that holds the nerves of the spinal cord can be narrowed by bone spurs, material from a herniated disk, or thickened ligaments. When this happens, the bone spur or other intrusion puts pressure on the nerves, causing the various symptoms of spinal stenosis.
Spinal stenosis can occur in the neck or in the lower back. It is most often experienced as numbness or tingling pain in an arm, hand, leg, or foot. In the case of lower back spinal stenosis, the pain will usually occur in a leg or foot. Spinal stenosis can also cause pain at the site of the compression, resulting in neck or lower back pain.
Degenerative Disk Disease
Degenerative Disk Disease is closely related to spinal stenosis and can be one cause of spinal stenosis. Degenerative disk disease occurs when disks in your spine begin to tear or sustain other damage. This can be caused by injury or simply by wear and tear over time and aging.
Spinal disks are located between the vertebrae in your spine and act as shock absorbers. They are like small pillows or sacks with a tough outer wall and a nucleus filled with water. When you are bone, the disks are full of water. But as you age, the disks dry out and become flatter. The drier, flatter disks don’t absorb shock as well as they used to and can contribute to further problems or injuries. The tough outer wall can also tear or form tiny cracks. Often these cracks are just the result of everyday activity and the accumulation of minor injuries over time. However, serious injury can speed up the process or cause more severe cracks and tears.
Nearly everyone will have some degeneration of the spinal disks as they age. But not everyone experiences pain. Degenerative disk disease is only diagnosed when the degeneration is accompanied by pain.
The pain from degenerative disk disease can feel like a sharp pain in the neck, back, buttocks, or upper thighs. The pain may come and go, but it can be severe. Typically, the pain is worst when you sit, bend, lift, and twist. The pain may subside or be less when you stand, walk, or lay down.
If the disks in your spine become severely worn, degenerative disk disease can lead to spinal stenosis. If the outer walls of the disks are ruptured, the disk can become herniated and put pressure on the nerves in the spine. If the disk loses its ability to act as a cushion, the vertebrae may slide closer together and twist into an unnatural position. Eventually, this rubbing can cause bone spurs, another cause of spinal stenosis.
When pain occurs due to pinching or pressure on the nerves of the spine, there are several innovative non-surgical pain-relief solutions available.
Epidural steroid injections are a first step in pain management. Using a needle, a potent steroid medication (corticosteroid) is delivered directly to the area of the pinched nerves. This medication can relieve swelling and inflammation that causes pain. It is important not to overuse steroid injections. Steroid medications can weaken the bone and connective tissue in and around the area where the medication is delivered. For this reason, patients should receive steroid injection no more than a few times a year.
Another less common treatment is spinal cord stimulation (SCS). SCS is not technically non-surgical, though it involves only very minor surgery. SCS uses a device similar to a pacemaker to send electrical pulses to electrodes placed on the spinal cord. The pulses mask the sensation of pain coming from spinal cord impingement or another part of the body.
SCS devices can work in different ways, sometimes with a low-frequency current and sometimes with high-frequency or burst pulses. The weak pulse may replace the pain with a slight tingling sensation. The stronger pulse may reduce pain without a tingling sensation. Typically, an implanted SCS device will have settings for both types of currents. The device is controlled by a handheld remote control. A non-rechargeable battery can last 2-5 years, depending on use, before the battery needs to be surgically replaced. A rechargeable battery can last 8-10 years or longer but must be recharged nightly.
Dorsal root ganglion (DRG) therapy is closely related to SCS. DRG therapy uses a similar method of transmitting an electric current to the nerves to mask pain signals. However, DRG therapy is used to more precisely target pain that is restricted to a particular area of the body. The dorsal root ganglion is an area of the spine with a dense network of nerves that connects to a specific part of the body. By targeting this area, it is possible to affect pain in a specific part of the body.
Both SCS and DRG are not 100% solutions to pain. They do not correct the source of the pain. They only mask the pain signals coming from the injured part of the body. Often, 50%-75% pain reduction is considered a success. However, for patients who have not had success with other therapies, including major surgery, SCS and DRG may offer life-changing relief.
Chronic pain is not easy to treat, and it is essential that you find pain relief experts who are experienced experts in their field.
TrustDALE certifies only a small number of pain relief practices. One practice we certify is Pain Solutions Treatment Centers. They have locations throughout the Atlanta Metro Area, Northwest Georgia, and Augusta. They focus on pain relief exclusively, and their doctors are recipients of many prestigious awards. Midtown Neurology, another TrustDALE certified pain specialist, focuses on neurological conditions that cause various types of pain, as well as migraines and dementia. Their location on the campus of the Atlanta Medical Center attracts patients from around the state and beyond for their unique expertise. To find out more about TrustDALE certified pain relief specialists in your area, click here.