NEW ORLEANS - The cost of chronic pain in the U.S. is greater than the cost of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Chronic pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor.
And with the latest technology, people who suffer are getting some relief.
Wanda Draughn lived with chronic pain. She could only sleep two hours a night. She tried pain medications, physical therapy, and back injections. They helped, but were not long lasting. Then she had a spinal cord stimulator implanted.
"I would have trouble just standing more than 15, 20 minutes. Now I'm able to walk. I was unable to prepare my meals and now I'm able to enjoy my baking again. Just the simple tasks of life, brushing my hair
in the mornings, combing my hair, was very painful and now there's no pain involved in that," said Draughn.
Spinal cord stimulation sends an impulse to the spinal column to interrupt the pain signal to the brain. The brain then doesn't perceive the pain.
Pain management specialist, Dr. James North, says he's had an 85 percent success rate with implanted nerve stimulators.
"Pain unfortunately in this country is a huge problem. Over 100 million patients are suffering with chronic pain from joint disease and back pain to headaches and abdominal pain. This sort of pain can actually develop a life of its own really, just engulfing a patient, affecting all aspects of their life," said Dr. North who is a pain management physician at Carolina's Pain Institute in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He is board certified in anesthesiology and pain medicine.
The key is to pick optimal patients. He says fusion surgery on people with multilevel degenerative disc disease, does little to help pain. And going through life on pain killers, opioids, has serious side effects.
"We've had a huge explosion in opiate use and abuse in this country. There was a huge swing towards using opiates in the early 90s and mid 90s. We've seen a huge rise in abuse and misuse with that pendulum swing. Now the pendulum's swinging in the other direction," said Dr. North.
The doctor also says there are good scientific data that show stimulation also works on other nerves, helping people who suffer from migraines for instance.
And while doctors use devices "off-label" frequently, that use is not FDA approved, which could make it difficult to get your insurance company to co-pay.