Diabetes is a condition that does more than interrupting the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels. It also leads to a long list of additional conditions, one of which is diabetic neuropathy. It is estimated that 50% of all diabetes patients suffer from neuropathy to some degree. In patients for which neuropathy is severe, it can also be debilitating.
Now it turns out that low impulse spinal cord stimulation may relieve diabetic neuropathy in some patients. Spinal cord stimulation is a treatment pain doctors often rely on to help relieve chronic back pain. If it does indeed work for diabetic patients, it could help relieve neuropathy pain for millions.
More About Diabetic Neuropathy
Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage caused by high glucose levels in the blood. The damage can occur in nerves throughout the body. However, most diabetics experience it in the legs and feet. Neuropathy can cause mild to severe pain, depending on how a patient’s body responds.
People with diabetes as sharp pains often describe severe neuropathy pain in the hips, feet, and legs. If the pain is severe enough, it can prevent a person with diabetes from walking. Many patients wear specially designed shoes and restrictive support hoses to help maintain the ability to walk with the least discomfort possible.
Studying Spinal Cord Stimulation
With plenty of knowledge relating to diabetic neuropathy, researchers from the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences decided to study the effects of spinal cord stimulation as a pain relief tool with the help of 319 patients, all of whom experienced “painful diabetic neuropathy.”
The control group, consisting of 103 patients, was given conventional pain management therapies for 12 months. The 216 patients in the test group received both conventional pain management therapies and spinal cord stimulation. Both groups are now in the midst of a 24-month follow-up. However, the study’s interim analysis shows promise.
Study results thus far show a significant difference between the two groups in terms of pain relief. The test group has reported less pain without any measurable neurological deficit. They also report sensory improvement, better function, better sleep, and improved quality of life.
How Spinal Cord Stimulation Works
According to the doctors at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, Texas, spinal cord stimulation is a proven treatment for relieving certain types of chronic back pain. It is achieved through the implantation of a small device that generates low impulse electrical signals.
The stimulator unit can be turned on or off by the patient as needed. When operational, the electrical impulses generate block pain signals that would otherwise travel from pain receptors to the brain. A big advantage of spinal cord stimulation is that it can alleviate pain 24 hours a day without the need for medications.
Implantation is a fairly simple procedure. The surgeon makes a small incision in the lower back and inserts the device. The device is attached to the lower portion of the spine, while electrodes attached to the device are placed in specific locations prescribed by the surgeon.
Next, the device is tested to make sure it is working properly. If it passes, the surgeon closes the incision, and the procedure is complete. It takes a few hours in total and only requires local anesthesia. Most patients return home the same day.
It is exciting to think that spinal cord stimulation can alleviate diabetic neuropathy pain. Hopefully, additional studies will back up what researchers at the University of Arkansas have learned. Their work could eventually help untold numbers of people with diabetes enjoy a better quality of life.