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    New technologies can help short circuit your chronic pain

    More than 100 million people in this country have pain that won’t go away. Many fail to get relief from pills, shots and surgery, while others trade the pain for side effects such as drowsiness or digestive problems. Unfortunately, too many become addicted to medications while trying to relieve their pain.

    As part of a comprehensive treatment plan, a variety of technologies offer new hope to people living with chronic pain.

    “Pain is one of the most challenging things to treat because its source can be elusive,” says Richard Rosenquist, M.D., chair of the Committee on Pain Medicine and chairman of the department of pain management at the Anesthesiology Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. “That’s why it’s vital to see a physician specializing in pain medicine who can help identify the source of the pain and suggest which pain method might work best.”

    Physician anesthesiologists who specialize in pain management have extensive training and expertise in finding the cause of pain and partnering with patients to create a plan for managing pain and improving function, which may include one or more of the new techniques.

    * Radio waves — Radiofrequency (RF) ablation involves heating a tiny area of nerve tissue, which short circuits pain signals. The pain medicine specialist inserts a needle into the nerve responsible for the pain and zaps it using an electric current created by radio waves.

    * Blocking the pain — Pain medicine physicians inject numbing medication that blocks or dampens pain, and might even stop chronic pain from developing. Pain in the arm or face can be relieved by blocking nerves in the neck, while chronic abdominal pain can be relieved by an injection into nerves supplying the abdomen.

    * Electric signals — Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can provide short-term pain relief for certain types of muscle pain by sending low voltage electric signals from a small device to the painful area through pads attached to the skin.

    * Spinal cord stimulation — When other methods fail, a pain medicine specialist might recommend spinal cord stimulation (SCS), which uses a pacemaker-like device that replaces the pain with a more tolerable sensation, typically tingling or a massage-like feeling. The physician implants the device in the lower back. When the patient feels pain, such as in the back or numbness in the legs (neuropathy), he or she can use a remote control device to send signals to the painful area.

    * High frequency spinal cord stimulation — A recent study published in Anesthesiology, the medical journal of the ASA, showed that a special high-frequency form of SCS provides significantly greater long-term relief for both chronic back and leg pain, without tingling or other sensations.

    * Pumping the pain away — Special implanted pumps allow the patient to push a button and deliver local anesthetics, narcotics and other pain medications to the spinal cord, bringing relief without the side effects that occur when taking these medications by mouth.

    * On the horizon: using our cells to fight pain – Promising research involves harvesting stem cells from a patient’s bone marrow and injecting them into an area, such as the lower back, that has become painful because tissue has deteriorated. The hope is that the stem cells will build new, healthy tissue and relieve pain for good.

    Chris Power developed complex regional pain syndrome when he fell on his arm. Doctors told him there wasn’t much hope, but his life was changed when he saw a physician anesthesiologist who recommended SCS. Watch Chris tell his story.

    While technology can do wonders for chronic pain, patients can play a big role in managing their pain with some low-tech strategies, including stopping smoking, maintaining a healthy weight to avoid putting stress on hips and knees, and eating healthy foods.

    For more information about chronic pain and the importance of finding a pain medicine specialist, visit our pain management page on

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