Neuromodulation is a term that broadly describes a field of pain medicine involving implantable and non-implantable technologies that act directly on nerves, electronically or pharmaceutically, to alter pain signals travelling to the brain in order to alleviate physical suffering. It is widely regarded as a solution for chronic pain, but it can be used to treat a variety of different conditions.
Similar to the role of cardiac pacemaker regulating an abnormal heartbeat, neuromodulation therapies help to improve normal function of the nervous system. A neuron, or nerve cell, is the fundamental unit of the brain and nervous system. It transmits information within the brain, as well as between the brain and other parts of the body. Neuromodulators are substances which alter the way nerves communicate with each other. Neuromodulation treatment directly targets neurons as they travel to the brain by applying controlled neuromodulators to influence the pain signals which can reduce the amount of pain felt by the individual.
Neuromodulation therapy can target highly specific areas of the brain or nervous system, unlike traditional pharmaceuticals. Many drugs that we are already familiar with are neuromodulators that work to relieve the patient of pain by influencing neuron communication. However, the main difference is that the traditional administration of drugs, for example oral consumption, has wide spread effects. Neuromodulation devices work in a direct and targeted manner either by stimulating the nerves electrically to produce a natural biological response or by applying tiny doses of pharmaceutical agents to alter pain signals on their way to the brain. It can be a more accurate and efficient way of administrating pain relief with the additional benefit of improving a patient’s quality of life by alleviating undesired effects of medication, such as sedation or clouded thought.
The most common neuromodulation treatment used is spinal cord stimulation (SCS). This involves the insertion of a thin wire, placed just outside the spinal cord. The wire is attached to a small generator, also placed under the skin, which carries frequent, low voltage electric impulses to the spine to act upon the pain signals as they make their way to the brain.
Other treatments include:
All of these treatments are administered by neurosurgeons, surgeons who perform surgeries on the nervous system.
Neuromodulation is well known for its treatment of chronic pain, like headaches, neuropathy and complex regional pain. It also helps to treat movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s or Tourette’s. It can be used in the treatment of epilepsy, psychiatric disorders, functional brain restoration, cardiovascular disorders and genitourinary disorders. The minimal adverse side effects associated with this treatment opens the possibility to wider treatment options.
Some risks that may occur if neuromodulation devices that are implanted in the body, include bleeding, infection, blood clots and a reaction to the medication, if pharmaceutical treatment being administered. The procedure is completely reversible and the devices are removable. Everyone’s nervous system is different, so responses to treatments may vary depending on the patient. Most candidates will have a trial procedure to see if a permanent device is suitable solution for them.