Chronic pain has been under-treated in part because the traditional practice of medicine was to focus on an underlying disease and not its symptoms. However, as pain came to be considered by many to be, itself, the disorder, a newer branch of medicine has evolved that deals specifically with pain management.
Now, many physicians and clinicians realize just how important it is to treat pain in order to fully meet their patients’ desire to live fuller, more active lives. And, on their part, patients are becoming more involved in their treatment and are requesting pain relief therapies from their doctors.
Pain is a reaction to signals transmitted from a pain source that travel through the nerves in the spinal cord to the brain. This means that pain can be controlled by interrupting or modulating the pain signals before they reach the brain.
Most individuals who develop a chronic pain condition try several types of therapies in their search for relief. Typically, they begin with conservative measures such as exercise, over-the-counter medications, rehabilitative therapy, transcutaneous electrical stimulation, and cognitive and behavioral modification.
When these treatments fail to work, physicians may prescribe more aggressive pain therapies such as nerve blocks, which use a chemical blocking agent, or neurolysis, which physically destroys nerve tissues. Prescription pain medications (systemic opioids) are frequently introduced at this stage; however, negative side effects, including dependency, can result.
When chronic pain conditions resist these therapies, patients may require more advanced treatment options. Surgery, implantable drug pumps, or neuroablation (a permanent surgical technique that blocks pain by destroying nerves and tissues at the source of the pain) may be recommended to combat chronic pain. Neurostimulation is an advanced alternative that pain practitioners also may offer their patients. This therapy includes spinal cord stimulation (SCS) systems that interrupt the pain signals on their way to the brain.