advertisement
advertisement

PAID CONTENT

default brandworks logo
PAID CONTENT

The non-opioid solution driving the next era of pain management

Advancements in spinal cord stimulation are transforming care for chronic pain sufferers

The non-opioid solution driving the next era of pain management

In January 1999, Marianne, a nurse in Houston, Texas, was helping coworkers lift a patient when she felt a twinge in her back. At first, she believed the pain she felt was nothing more than a tweaked muscle, but two months later, one of her legs went numb. As it turned out, the twinge Marianne felt was a more serious back injury that led to additional complications that, collectively, spelled the end of Marianne’s hands-on nursing career.

advertisement

Once an avid snowboarder and runner, she was now stuck on her couch for most of the day. “I was horrified that I couldn’t do what I loved to do,” she says. “Physically, I was broken. I developed problems. I lost bladder control due to nerve damage. I had a difficult time walking. I had a lot of pain, and all the pain regimens [my doctors] tried with me did very little to take the pain away.”

Marianne visited numerous physicians over the course of several years to find ways to minimize the daily pain that kept her couchbound. She was prescribed nerve pain medicine, muscle relaxants, and heavy-duty narcotics, along with a handful of other medications to counteract the side effects of those drugs. The pills blunted the pain, but they also dulled her spirit. “It was very depressing,” she says. “I feel like I really lost part of myself.”

During that years-long period, Marianne gradually transitioned to seeing specialists who focus on chronic pain. Finally, eight years into her pain management struggle, Marianne had a breakthrough: On the advice of her pain specialist, she decided to try a spinal cord stimulator, a small implantable device designed to relieve pain by sending mild electric pulses to the spinal cord, interrupting pain signals on their way to the brain. While results may vary among patients, three months later, Marianne was walking without a cane. Within two years, she ran a 5K race. She even started snowboarding again. “It was exhilarating,” she says. “This is the road I needed to go on to get my life back.”

advertisement
advertisement

These days, advances in spinal cord stimulation (SCS) have made the technology even more effective, opening up a new realm of pain relief for the millions of Americans who live with chronic pain.

A WIDESPREAD PROBLEM

Of the 50 million Americans who experience pain daily, nearly 20 million suffer from high-impact chronic pain (HICP)—pain that makes even routine daily tasks like standing to make dinner, getting in and out of cars, and putting on shoes difficult or impossible. Like Marianne, many lose the ability to do their jobs.

It can be difficult for people with HICP to manage their pain, as patients can respond differently to treatment options. That’s because each patient’s pain is unique and can change over time. A variety of treatments—including opioid medications, injections, physical therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy—may successfully manage one patient’s pain but fail to be effective for another. A pain specialist can offer a wider range of treatment options and help patients determine treatment based on the source of pain and how it impacts their daily life.

advertisement

All too often, however, patients are not aware of the option to see a pain specialist. “Pain is one of the most common reasons for a patient to visit the doctor, yet it’s one of the most under-treated and poorly treated issues,” says Dr. Nilesh Patel, vice president of medical affairs for Boston Scientific, a medical device company headquartered in Marlborough, Mass., that develops and manufactures devices and therapies for pain management. “As a result, most patients end up suffering needlessly.”

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the opioid epidemic, and the need for a broader menu of non-opioid treatment options has never been greater.

AN INNOVATIVE SOLUTION

SCS has been used for decades to treat chronic pain, but thanks to recent innovation, now doctors can better personalize therapy and work with patients to optimize treatment. The Boston Scientific WaveWriter Alpha SCS System provides multiple therapy options that can be used in combination to help patients find relief. Some address pain with a mild tingling sensation, while others use a type of stimulation patients don’t feel at all. The device provides immediate relief through an advancement called Fast-Acting Sub-perception or FAST therapy. Instead of waiting days or weeks to feel results, “a patient will know before they leave the office whether or not this therapy is going to work for them,” Patel says.

advertisement

Boston Scientific continues to invest in cutting-edge therapies to help patients and their doctors navigate the ever-changing pain management journey. That includes studying the complex relationship between chronic pain and functional outcomes and developing more objective measurements for pain.

Marianne benefited from the advancements in SCS technology when she replaced her first SCS device with WaveWriter Alpha about a year ago. The new device eliminated her pain completely. She lives in Missouri now, but her work occasionally sends her back to the mountains of California. “I pray that when I get to go there, there’s snow on the mountains,” she says. “Because when there’s snow, I’m snowboarding.”

advertisement
advertisement

About the author

FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

More