Effective, Safe Pain Control With Electricity
For many decades we have been using electricity to control pain. Actually
we could go back several centuries to the oft repeated use of electric
eels for gout pain. The patient would put the painful part in a bucket of
eels and obtain pain relief from the shock of the eels. This is our first
recorded use of electricity for pain control. It does not matter whether
the pain is chronic or acute as the process of sensory input for the pain
sensation is practically identical. Historically tens units have been
used outside the clinic for the patient to wear and adjust during their
daily activities to accommodate the pain being felt. If the pain is very
severe, acute onset, or the patient has moments when the pain intensity
is too great for them to bear, then interferential is used in the
clinical setting. In rare situations a dorsal column stimulator (DCS)
will be used and in the most severe a deep brain stimulator (DBS) will be
used. I'll explain each of these farther along in this email.
Pain is symptomatic of a problem somewhere in your body. The pain signal
triggers your brain to respond to the harmful stimulus, such as touching
a hot pan, by rapidly withdrawing your hand. If the hand was harmed,
tissue damaged, then a new process is started by the brain to make sure
there is no infectious agents such as bacteria, germs etc. in the body
where the pain was experienced. The brain will signal the release of T-
cells ( natural antibiotics ) to the site and will precede the t - cells
with histamines so they can break through the capillaries to the area the
bacteria is and kill it. The brain will cause many physiological and
biological changes with the latter two being a small part of the process.
The pain stimulus is sent to the spinal column to go to the brain. It is
an electrical signal that imbalances certain nerves and the resulting
actions by the nerves insure the pain message is received so no further
harm is done. All of this is good until the message going to the brain is
continuous or more frequent than is needed and unnecessary. It is at this
point when the message is constant that the patient has a problem. Now
the issue is not protecting the body but preventing further harm by the
constant pain message which limits the patient's abilities to be
functional. The pain impulse becomes an inhibitor to health. One comment
you will hear often is the pain " is all in your head". Very accurate
statement as all pain is in the head as that is where it is perceived so
nothing new here. The danger of it not being in your head is most evident
in a patient with diabetic neuropathy or other diseases where the sensory
input is lost. That patient may have a cut, or burn to their foot/legs,
and never know about it until infection has set in. The impairment of the
sensory input to the patient's brain results in far more serious injury
often resulting in systemic infection, amputation or in some cases death.
For those patients the lack of pain being in their "head" can be tragic.
How Electrical Signals To The Body Work:
With chronic pain the nerves that are transmitting the pain signal are
activated by minimal input. When the pain nerve going to the spinal cord
is stimulated a message is sent and the spinal cord can only accept and
transmit a limited number of messages to the brain. The messages to the
brain come in from different types of nerves referred to as "A", "B", "C"
fibers. These fibers carry different messages such as pressure, heat etc.
so the fibers have different duties (jobs) to keep the brain informed of
what our body is experiencing. Because there are more nerve fibers coming
to the spine than there are pathways to the brain then some messages do
not get transmitted. When that message is the pain message from the C
fiber, then if not transmitted, obviously there can be no pain.
If not in the brain then no pain.
With electricity for the chronic pain patient we use devices to stimulate
the "non pain" fibers.
For visualization I like to compare this process to the old fashion
telephone system where you had an operator who physically routed phone
calls to their destination. The operator might only have access to 10
outgoing lines so when there were 20 calls coming into the central system
the operator had to decide which of the 10 were most important and allow
them through while letting the other 10 know to wait or call back when
less busy. This is similar to the process our spine goes through on
deciding what messages are allowed or not allowed.
In order to prioritize non pain messages so the spinal cord will transmit
that message, rather than the pain message, we use electricity to
stimulate the non-pain fibers. The electrical impulse stimulates (
causing physical/chemical changes ) to the nerve fibers and therefore the
input from the non pain fibers are transmitted and the pain message is
not. When using electrical inputs the patient experiences non pain
sensations since that sensation is what is being transmitted to the brain
for our perception. The pain signal goes away or is never transmitted
therefore no pain.
At this point a word of clarification on the "blocking" of the pain
message. Naturally one would assume that by blocking the impulse the
patient runs risk of real injury yet it would not be perceived. That is
not the case with controlled electrical input from a device. The amount
of electrical stimulus in the painful area is produced based upon the
existing level of pain at the time the electrical stimulus is set up. If
the electrical stimulus is too great then that stimulus itself will cause
the patient to have pain. The patient would react by simply saying that
the electricity is now painful so the level of the intensity would be
lowered so the patient experiences no pain. If after the electrical
stimulus is set up and the patient now has a new injury then the pain
stimulus from the new injury will override the existing settings and the
new painful stimulus will override and the new injury will be just that,
a more powerful stimulus that is transmitted to the brain and the patient
knows of a new injury and the body reacts accordingly. This is most
common in the use of electrical devices for athletes. A football player
wearing a unit during a game who has suffered a "hip pointer" or
"sprained ankle" would still feel any new injury or stimulus such as re-
injuring the ankle. The pain from the new injury is perceived, not
overridden by the electrical device.
Devices to Stop The Pain Message
Listed below are the type electrical devices normally used to stop
1. TENS ( Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulator ) - A small portable
device worn by the patient operating from generally a 9 volt battery.
Device is worn constantly, or when pain present, and can be worn 24/7 if
necessary. Characterized electrically by having range of 1 - 150 pulses
per second ( PPS) of electricity. PPS simply means the machine comes off
and on 150 times a second. Tens have no carryover pain relief which means
if the unit is turned off then the pain immediately returns. TENS are
covered by most insurance companies, including Medicare.
2. Interferential Unit ( IF/IFC) - Somewhat larger than a tens unit and
uses electricity from a plug in AC adaptor. The pulses per second are
8,000 - 8,150. The greater pulses per second mean an Interferential Unit
can not be worn or used for any extended time period if using a battery
system but needs to be plugged in to the wall. Interferential has
considerable carryover pain relief and often after a 20 -30 minute
treatment the pain will not return for hours/ days or weeks.
Interferential is covered by some insurance companies when billed as
durable medical equipment ( DME) but is regarded by Medicare as
3. Dorsal Column Stimulator ( DCS) - An external device power source that
usually uses radio waves to transmit power to the receiver which is
connected to wires embedded on each side of the spinal column. This is an
implant requiring surgical intervention. The stimulus often results in
immediate pain relief with some carryover in certain patients. Normally
the surgery has to be preapproved by the insurance company and external
devices have failed prior to the authorization of the implantation of a
4. Deep Brain Simulator ( DBS) - Similar to the DCS except the wires are
placed into the brain. Implant done generally by a neurosurgeon and often
a last resort type treatment for patients who potentially suicidal due to
the severity of their chronic pain.
Bob Johnson is owner/founder of MedFaxx, Inc. and has multiple patents
for non pharmacological treatment of chronic pain, decubitus ulcers,
using electrotherapy and ultraviolet F.D.A. approved medical devices.
More information is available at the web site, http://www.medfaxxinc.com