For people who’ve long battled chronic pain, the worst torment may be getting the news that little or nothing can be done to help.
But that’s not the case at Garden State Pain Control, with locations in Edison, Clifton, Hazlet and Jersey City. Thanks to a safe, effective and minimally-invasive option known as spinal cord stimulation (SCS), the practice offers new hope to individuals struggling with acute and chronic pain.
A Safe and Effective Option
“Pain is experienced when our nerves send pain signals to the brain,” said Tyler Duggan, physician assistant at Garden State Pain Control, of the concept behind spinal cord stimulation and the benefits the unique therapy can offer. “Often described as ‘a pacemaker for the nerves,’ SCS involves the implantation of a battery-powered device that intercepts/interrupts pain signals so that the brain doesn’t perceive them.” Conditions that respond positively to SCS include failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and nerve-related pain such as neuropathy resulting from surgery, diabetes or cancer.
“The process begins with a trial, during which two leads are inserted percutaneously through the skin to the source of the patient’s pain; these leads either replace feelings of pain with a tingling sensation or work on a ‘sub-perception’ level such that you don’t realize the therapy is working, but you experience much less pain,” Duggan said. “Patients are in complete control of the intensity and frequency of the stimulation they receive and can dial it up or down depending on their needs.
“The 5-7-day trial — done in a quick, same-day procedure in an outpatient setting under local anesthesia or IV sedation — is important because it allows patients to assess their tolerance of the system and make an informed decision,” he said. “Should they elect to proceed with implantation, that 60-minute procedure — also done in an outpatient setting — is extremely safe as well because we’re not altering the natural anatomy of the spine or cutting bone in any way.”
During the trial, the system’s battery will be taped to the patient’s back and he or she will receive a controller enabling him or her to turn the therapy on or off at will. “If they proceed to implantation — which is still a completely reversible process — a small circular battery will be placed in their lower back under the skin but over the muscle to lay flush against the skin,” he said, adding that patients can choose either a non-rechargeable battery, which usually lasts about seven years, or a rechargeable battery that can last for up to a decade. In addition, most SCS systems are MRI-compatible.
“A successful trial ‘on paper’ delivers a 50% or greater reduction in pain, but at Garden State Pain Control, we strive for a much higher level — we like to see a 60% to 80% improvement in pain levels, and some patients even tell us that the therapy eliminates their pain completely,” Duggan said. “We hope to see an improvement in their function as well — such as being able to walk longer, play with their grandkids, golf, garden or return to doing any of the things they love to do so that they can truly enjoy their life without reliance on medication, periodic injections or surgeries.”
Giving Patients Their Life Back
Those who have tried the broad range of medications (epidurals, nerve blocks, opioids, etc.), worked through physical therapy and chiropractic, and maybe even undergone surgery — all with limited or no success — are ideal candidates for SCS. “One of the great things about SCS is that patients can experience it on a trial basis, almost like test-driving a car, so they have nothing to lose,” he said. Those who may not be a perfect fit for SCS include individuals with severe scoliosis or spinal stenosis or those with a history of post-operative infections or cardiac co-morbidities.
“For those patients whose pain is severely impacting their quality of life, we’ll start very conservatively with a couple of epidurals for therapeutic benefits,” said Duggan, whose team prides itself on forging strong relationships with patients based on honesty, transparency and trust. “If that fails, I always carry around a spinal cord stimulation battery so that I can show it to patients and explain that it works by blocking pain signals so that patients feel significantly less or no pain; patient education on this technology is so important,” he said. “We also have many ‘patient ambassadors’ who are willing to share their own great experiences with SCS to help others understand the process and feel more comfortable.
“Ultimately, many people are struggling with the hopelessness and discomfort that come with chronic pain, but spinal cord stimulation has the potential to give you your life back,” Duggan concluded. “We’ve seen such phenomenal results among so many of our patients and are excited to offer a safe, minimally-invasive option that can help get them out of pain and enable them to enjoy their life again.”
With convenient locations in Edison, Clifton, Hazlet and Jersey City, Garden State Pain Control has been providing compassionate and comprehensive pain management to people struggling with acute and chronic pain since 1994.