By: 31 May 2013

A new device helps reduce severe back and leg pain, significantly improving patients’ quality of life, according to research from the Pain Management and Neuromodulation centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.
The technology is a new type of spinal cord stimulation, where small leads implanted near the spinal cord send high frequency electrical pulses. The technique expands on the existing approach, where frequencies of around 50Hz are used to stimulate the spinal cord. “The existing device causes tingling, like pins and needles. Some people find the sensation unbearable – worse than their back pain,“ says Dr Adnan Al-Kaisy, clinical lead in pain management, who led the study.
“This technique uses much higher frequencies of up to 10,000Hz which can’t be felt. It also relieves back pain more effectively than conventional low frequency stimulation,“ Dr Al-Kaisy added.
The researchers collaborated with Belgian hospital AZ Nikolaas, testing the device in 83 patients. At the start of the trial, patients gave their back pain a score of 8.4 out of ten on average, with ten being the worst pain imaginable. After six months the average score was dramatically reduced to 2.7 out of ten for 82 patients (one did not attend the follow-up assessments). Most patients reported more than a 50% reduction in their pain.
“These kinds of results are almost unheard of,“ says Dr Thomas Smith, consultant in pain medicine. “Back pain can be debilitating, so being able to relieve people of constant pain makes a big difference to their lives.“
However, this procedure is not suitable for everyone. “Before patients can have the full implant, they must have a psychological assessment, be physically and mentally suitable, and have a successful two-week trial,“ says Dr Smith.
The study was published in the journal Neuromodulation.