Managing Pain Without MedsDr. Sanjay Gupta
By Dr. Sanjay Gupta
(Everyday Health) – Getting older hurts — literally — and as our country ages, so do the number of people who live with daily pain, so-called “chronic” pain.
More than 76 million people are estimated to be living with chronic pain, and less than half receive treatment. But treating chronic pain presents a real challenge for us doctors. Because opioids, which are very effective in treating pain, are also addictive and potentially deadly if abused.
The death of Prince brought that risk into sharp focus. But while we wrestle with how and when to use these powerful opioid medications, we are also using other methods that treat pain without drugs.
For example, this device, which is being implanted into the spine of Julie Williams, who has been living with debilitating pain for a year.
Julie Williams: I’d had a back surgery when I was 25 for a disk, and I had pain down my left leg at that time.
Dr. Gupta: Then a year ago, the pain returned.
Julie Williams: And it was, gosh, sometimes 9 out of 10. Burning, mainly a burning pain.
William David Mauck, MD, Chair, Pain Medicine, Mayo Clinic: So this is what a device looks like. Think of it as a pacemaker for the spine — it’s probably the simplest way to look at that.
Dr. Gupta: The device gives off a mild electrical pulse that mutes the pain signal traveling up to the brain. Patients can even control the amount of stimulation, depending on their level of pain.
Spinal stimulation is not a panacea. It does not end the pain, but makes it more manageable. And only about half the patients report meaningful relief. But it is another tool for physicians trying to treat pain with fewer drugs.
Julie, who works as a physician’s assistant, is lucky. She says 80 to 90 percent of her pain is now gone.
Julie Williams: And honestly, it’s so weird because I forget about it. I forgot how bad the pain is, and then all of a sudden I’ll remember and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this is amazing.”
Dr. Gupta: With Everyday Health, I’m Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Be well.