The age of tech and pain relief is maturing. Researchers and medical professionals have been experimenting with alternative pain relief using neuromodulation since the 1960s. As tech has advanced so too have the applications of this nerve stimulation entrant into the world of pain relief. Based on their research and clinical trials with moderately acceptable results, Medtronic introduced the first commercial Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) in 1968.
The idea that electrical stimulation is by no means a theory of the tech age. Historical records suggests that electricity has been used for thousands of years as a pain relief method. In a 2020 research paper published on April 1, 2020, in the Korean Journal of Pain, Francis Sahngun Nahm recounts the early use of electricity in pain relief.
In the paper by Nahm entitled, From torpedo fish to spinal cord stimulator, the Author points to the ancient use of electricity in pain relief, “Electrical stimulation for pain relief was used in ancient Rome. Since the Roman physician Scribonius Largus found that gout pain had been relieved by incidental contact with a torpedo fish (electric fish) in about 15 AD, the beneficial effect of electrical stimulation on the body has long been recognized.” Over the centuries the idea of pain relief through electrical stimulation has progressed to implanted devices such as the neuromodulation Spinal Cord Stimulator.
55 Years of Spinal Cord Stimulators
The year 2017 marked the 50th Anniversary of the use of the Spinal Cord Stimulator to relive pain. On that auspicious occasion, NeuroNews interviewed some of the pioneers in the alternative pain management technique of electrical stimulation. Those interviewed included:
- Giancarlo Barolat is director of Barolat Neuroscience.
- Christophe Perruchoud, Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Management, Center for Neuromodulation, Hospital of Morges, Switzerland.
- Simon Thomson is consultant in Pain Medicine and Neuromodulation at Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundations Trust, Basildon, UK, and Past President of the International Neuromodulation Society.
In the interview, which is already 5 years old, Christophe Perruchoud credited technology with supplying the advances needed in the field and hinted at how it will exponentially increase its presence and efficiency for pain management. “Over the past years, the reliability of implanted devices has considerably improved. Rechargeable batteries and MRI compatibility systems are also a remarkable step forward. Finally, paraesthesia-free stimulations, such as high frequency or burst stimulation, deeply transformed the field of neuromodulation.”
Giancarlo Barolat also noted the hopes that high tech will bring to the field with his comments, “Micro technologies with miniaturisation of the devices, improved battery life, a variety of waveform will unleash our ability to interface in a more effective way with the nervous system and body dysfunction”
When asked about the challenges of the last 50 years of SCS and its future, Simon Thomson responded “Changing the perception of spinal cord stimulation from an interesting curiosity for a minority of patients to a clinical service that can treat a population of patients.”
High Tech and The Pain Management Physician
In the five years since the publication of the article SCS usage and referrals have grown. The systems have become smaller, more targeted and controlled by computer chips. Physicians who are Specialists in Pain Management are preparing for the innovations that AI, VR, Machine Learning, and AR capabilities will bring to the field of pain relief.