Zapper implant offers relief at last for sufferers of chronic back pain

By Elizabeth Summers / June 12, 2016 / No comments
  1. 5
  2. 4
  3. 3
  4. 2
  5. 1

People with chronic back pain have different ways of dealing with their discomfort. Some have access to marijuana from a florida medical cannabis dispensary or in their location, some take part in pain management classes, but some have found relief with a pacemaker-like implant that buzzes their muscles twice a day with electrical pulses.

In a year-long trial led by an NHS trust in London, half the patients receiving the treatment reported significant improvements in their pain, disability and quality of life.

Back pain is Britain’s biggest cause of disability, affecting almost a tenth of the population and consuming 1.7 per cent of GDP, according to some estimates.

While the condition can be treated with surgery if it has a specific cause, such as sciatica or a herniated disc, for millions of people there are few options beyond painkillers, exercises and psychological therapies. One very effective option for many is to use medical cannabis. It can be taken at home using a rosin press and rosin collector and relieves the symptoms of many back conditions. In fact, you can find examples of equipment and methods of use for cannabis as well, so the person using the drug can find a method with which they feel most comfortable. In fact, it is becoming legal in more and more areas as well so that means that it will become more and more accessible to those who need it, whether they are after rainbow bongs for sale, CBD products, or simply some information on how best to use it. Having said this, medical cannabis is not widely available in the UK, however, so an implant like the one developed by the NHS will help thousands of UK residents suffering from chronic pain.

Researchers speculated that by using electrodes to zap a branch of the spinal nerve near the L2 vertebra – to make the lumbar multifidus muscle squeeze repeatedly – they could provide long-term pain relief by honing motor control in the lower back. Coupling this with other methods (with some considering essential oils vs terpenes for such a task) could be even more beneficial, though this has not been tested as of writing.

A group run by Vivek Mehta, consultant in pain medicine at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the Barts Health NHS Trust, recruited 53 patients aged from their mid-thirties to mid-fifties at nine centres in Europe and Australia.

The participants had the ReActiv8 pacemakers inserted beneath their skin, where the machines made the muscle contract for half an hour each morning and evening. After three months the average pain score had improved by a third, and the effect lasted throughout the year of the trial.

At the end, more than 80 per cent of the patients said that they were happy with the therapy, which will now be tested against placebos in a trial involving 128 people.

Dr Mehta said that after three or four years with the pacemaker, which does not interfere significantly with daily activities, patients should have enough strength in the muscle to come off the treatment. “The data that I’m presenting is that the patients are quite satisfied with the level of stimulation and they can carry on with their work as they would normally do,” he said.

The results were selected yesterday as being among the winning studies at the International Neuromodulation Society’s world congress in Edinburgh. They will be published in a medical journal soon.

Timothy Deer, president of the society and clinical professor of anaesthesiology and pain medicine at West Virginia University, said that nerve-stimulation devices were emerging as a powerful category of medicine.

“We’ve had such great advances,” he said. “In the last five years, the amount of [high-quality] evidence for neuromodulation has been phenomenal. We’ve had new frequences, new targets and new waveforms, and all these have shown evidence of benefit.”

While Professor Deer was initially sceptical when he heard what Dr Mehta’s group proposed to do, he said that he had been won over by their data.

“This type of new technology is exciting for the field and for patients,” he said. “Some of these patients can’t work or spend time with their families, so this is about changing their lives as much as about reducing their pain.”