Neuromodulation is emerging as a popular option for chronic pain management. Innovations are continually making devices and therapies more effective at treating pain, more convenient to use and less disruptive to your everyday life, according to the journal Neurosurgery. Chronic pain is complex, and managing it often means seeing multiple specialists, trying a variety of treatments in sequence and you might not always know the right questions to ask in every setting.
Here's how you and your family members and friends can make sure you're asking the right questions so you can be confident that you're choosing the option that's best for you or your family member.
What Kind of Doctor Should I See?
Your trusted primary care physician can take care of many of the first-line treatments, such as recommending lifestyle changes, prescribing medications, referring you to physical therapy and ordering imaging tests. But if these interventions fail and your pain doesn't subside, it can be time to seek specialist care.
Once you have determined that you are experiencing chronic pain — which means pain that has lasted longer than six months and is not responding to conservative care — it is likely time to seek out the specialized knowledge and skills of an interventional pain management specialist.
Do You Understand the Pain You Are Experiencing?
Now that you are seeing an interventional pain management specialist, it is very important that you are able to accurately describe your pain. This includes such information as:
- How did your pain begin?
- How long have you experienced pain?
- How would you describe what your pain feels like: Sharp? Dull? Shooting?
- What exacerbates your pain or offers relief?
- How severe your pain is, using numbers, colors or pictures to describe it or comparing it to past experiences?
- How does your pain impact your life? For instance, are you missing work or social and family activities? Are you able to sleep?
Being able to clearly delineate what you're experiencing can help your pain management specialist properly diagnose and treat your pain. By keeping a journal of your pain each day, and by following prescribed treatments closely, you can keep your treatment moving forward.
What Are My Options? What Kind of Relief Can I Expect?
There are many treatment options available for chronic pain, and it's important to fully understand your potential options and the long-term benefits and drawbacks of each.
Your doctor may try a variety of treatments depending on your exact diagnosis including radiofrequency ablation (RFA) which is a minimally invasive procedural approach used to treat certain types of spinal pain. This treatment has few risks and typically provides 6-12 months of pain relief. Other interventional treatment options include neuromodulation.
Neuromodulation includes a number of treatments, including spinal cord stimulation and dorsal root ganglion stimulation. If neuromodulation makes the most sense for you, your doctor will help you decide which type of treatment is appropriate for your pain. The right therapy for you will depend on your symptoms and where your pain is. For example, BurstDR™ Stimulation may be better for people whose pain is broadly located in the trunk and limbs; DRG therapy targets pain that's more focal in the foot, knee, hip or groin.
Be sure to ask specifically about the benefits and risks of each therapy and whether or not that treatment would improve your pain control. And don't be afraid to ask some hard questions, such as:
- How many times have you performed this procedure?
- What is your success rate for this procedure and for patients like me?
- Would you choose this treatment if you were in my position?
- What can I expect to go through at the trial and implant of the device?
Chronic pain can seriously affect your life, and treating it is an essential part of living fully. You deserve to know anything and everything that might affect you.
What Are the Next Steps?
The pertinent details of each treatment should be clear to all parties involved. Understanding if you'll need to undergo a surgical procedure (even a minimally invasive one), where the procedure will be performed, how long you will need to be in recovery, the out-of-pocket costs for each treatment — these are all essential to making an informed decision. Your doctor's office will help you through each step of this process as you consider your options.
Chronic pain management is a difficult journey, but by asking the right questions, you can find a trusted provider, get the right treatment and start living your best life.