Man holding neck in pain

What Causes Neck Pain?

We often describe something or someone unpleasant as being “a pain in the neck,” and anyone who’s ever experienced it firsthand can understand why.

More than 30% of U.S. adults suffer with neck pain each year, and up to 80% will experience it at some point in their lifetime. It can be helpful to know what causes neck pain, either to prevent it from returning, or to stop it from happening in the first place.

Why Does My Neck Hurt?

Neck pain can be brief, lasting only several days, or it can become a chronic issue. The discomfort can be near the base of the head, or extend into other areas, including the shoulders and arms.

For some, neck pain is a constant ache, while others may feel a stabbing or burning sensation. Further symptoms can include increased sensitivity to pressure applied to the neck, headache, numbness and tingling in one or both arms, and tension. Neck pain is a symptom of many different medical conditions and injuries, so determining the root cause can take some time.

Root Causes of Neck Pain

Oftentimes, neck pain is a result of muscle strain. This may stem from poor posture, including spending too much time hunched over an electronic device. It’s even possible for your sleep posture to affect your neck.

Certain factors of aging may also lead to neck pain. For instance, osteoarthritis (the general wear and tear of joint cartilage), can occur in your neck. Another cause may be spinal stenosis, a condition in which the spaces within your spine become narrower. Ongoing stress and certain repeated movements can also cause discs in the spine to degenerate over time, leading to herniated discs or pinched nerves.

Trauma can also lead to neck pain. While any type of injury or sudden impact could impact your neck, whiplash is an especially common cause. Usually, whiplash happens during an automobile accident, when your spine is abnormally compressed, causing damage to facet joints and intervertebral discs. Although rare, whiplash can also occur during sports and high-impact activities, and even when you’re riding a rollercoaster.

In some cases, even mental or emotional stress can cause neck pain, as it may result in tightening the neck muscles. Overexertion from heavy lifting, repetitive actions, or other strenuous activities can also contribute to your neck discomfort.

How Does Neck Pain Impact the Rest of Your Body?

Just because it’s common doesn’t mean neck pain should be ignored. Less frequent causes of neck pain can include cysts, bone spurs, or tumors. Other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis, or cancer may also be the source of your pain.

Regardless of the source, back and neck pain are among the most common causes of disability in the working population. It also runs the risk of keeping you more sedentary, making you more susceptible to weight gain, which has its own set of health risks. Debilitating neck pain may even cause depression, since it can interfere with all areas of your life if left unaddressed.

The good news is that you don’t have to settle for a life of lasting neck pain. If you’re concerned about the intensity or longevity of your pain, reach out to our team at 770-929-9033 to schedule a full analysis. Our providers pinpoint the root cause and then use state-of-the-art therapies to deliver real relief. Appointments are also conveniently available to schedule online.

Woman looking at glass of wine

The Risks of Turning to Alcohol for Pain Management

If you’ve been leaning on alcohol to help “take the edge off” of your chronic pain — or the stress of life, in general — you’ve got company. In 2021, nearly a quarter of American adults reported an increase in their alcohol consumption to help deal with the stress of the COVID pandemic alone.

Perhaps you’ve even found research suggesting that moderate drinking may boost your health.  But a larger community of experts agree that there is actually no safe amount to consume.

When you’re self-medicating with alcohol to help manage your pain, there are other, unique risks at play. Here’s more about the danger, and why we encourage you to pursue alternative solutions.

Pain Medication + Alcohol = A Potentially Deadly Combination

Prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin work by blocking the pain messages between your body and your brain. They’re also helpful in calming down the body by slowing breathing, and inducing a feeling of relaxation. Alcohol can amplify these effects and has the danger of dramatically slowing your heart rate and breathing, which — if extreme enough — could put you into a coma.

Simply mixing a couple of aspirin and a glass of wine can negatively impact your gastrointestinal system, but combining alcohol and opioids could be deadly. In general, if you are reliant on pain medication of any kind to manage your chronic pain, it’s recommended to avoid alcohol altogether.

Weight Gain Can Increase Pain

Beyond being full of “empty” calories, alcohol consumption can significantly slow how your body burns fat. This may lead to weight gain, and can also make it difficult to lose weight you’ve gained over time. Drinking even a moderate amount may also interfere with your body’s ability to register when it’s full — potentially causing you to eat more than you need to.

“There’s a lot of evidence that indicates being overweight can contribute to your pain levels. So if you are trying to lose or maintain weight to help with your chronic pain, abstaining from alcohol may be even wiser advice than avoiding the ice cream.

Other Health Dangers

Drinking more than very occasionally can also pose several other health risks, including shrinking your brain matter, negatively impacting your heart, and increasing your risk for several cancers.

Though considered a sedative, alcohol before bed can also contribute to harmful disruptions in your sleep patterns. Once alcohol levels drop, your brain shifts into heightened activity, causing restlessness. This can be a terrible combination for those who are already experiencing sleep problems due to their chronic pain.

Too much alcohol can also contribute to increased depression or anxiety, weaken your immune system, and systemic inflammation. If you’re experiencing chronic pain, you may already be struggling with feelings of isolation or helplessness, and alcohol certainly will not help improve them. Similarly, those with chronic pain need healthy, well balanced immune systems to help combat disease while reducing inflammation that may otherwise exacerbate the issue.

If you’re suffering from chronic pain, and are relying on alcohol to medicate it, our caring, award-winning physicians want to help you find a solution that isn’t detrimental to your health. We will work closely with you to identify your pain source and determine a healthy course of action. You can call us at 770-929-9033 for an appointment, or schedule one online.

Grandfather and grandson playing piggy back

Strong Spine Tips for Every Age

Our spines do such a good job of holding us up, it’s easy to take them for granted. But the spine links every part of the skeleton together, and protects our spinal cord — a key component of our central nervous system. Simply put, backing up our backbone is one of the most essential preventative care measures we can take.

Here’s how you can look out for your spine, regardless of your age.

Childhood Spine Caretaking

One of the best ways to tend to a child’s spine is to monitor the weight and positioning of their backpack when going back to school. Keeping them regularly active will be another terrific boost to their spines, as well. Also, regular doctor’s checkups help monitor muscle pain, potential fractures, or disc herniation on a case-by-case basis.

Tending to Your Spine as A Teen

If you’re physically active and accident-free through childhood, there are few spine problems you may experience as a teenager. But adolescent idiopathic scoliosis (occurring between the ages of 10 and 18) is one thing to look out for.

Idiopathic scoliosis is the most common form of scoliosis, and usually worsens during the adolescent years, while the skeleton is reaching full maturity. The forward bend test is often used to diagnose the presence of scoliosis, but your doctor can also determine it using X rays and physical exams. The success of treatment depends upon early detection, and the severity of the spine’s curve, but even for patients with large curves, surgical treatment can be highly successful.

A Youthful Spine Tip for Young Adults

In the midst of establishing career success, growing a potential new family, and navigating social changes, young adults may place new stresses and strains on their spines. For example, sitting for more than 7 hours in one position during the workday can negatively impact your back health.

Young adults may also want to incorporate some regular yoga into their routine in order to protect their spines into the future. Yoga can decrease both physical and mental stress, as well as strengthen and stretch muscles to prevent pain long-term.

Middle Age Spine Care

As we age, there are a variety of reasons why spine pain may require attention. Determining the cause will help create the cure, so it’s important at this time of life to have a close relationship either with your primary care physician, a pain specialist, or both.

Family history, lifestyle habits, recent injury, or chronic conditions may all come into play when it comes to spine pain, so there isn’t a single cure-all for this condition. But if you aren’t exercising regularly, are overweight, or need to introduce a more healthful diet, now’s a crucial time to start incorporating these changes for your spine health.

Staying Spine Strong After Sixty

After sixty, osteoporosis may become a concern, especially for women. To ensure your whole skeleton (including your spine) is healthy and strong, consider a bone mineral density test to assess the porousness (and therefore fragility) of your bones.

Adding Vitamin D and calcium supplements may also help increase bone strength at this time, but consult with your doctor before doing so. Weight-bearing exercises and activities for added balance may also build musculoskeletal strength, so long as they do not add to the risk of injury or strain.

Regardless of your age, our award-winning team cares about the strength of your spine from top to bottom. To craft the ideal plan for your spine, book appointment with us online or call 770-929-9033.

Woman laying in bed while in pain

The Link Between Chronic Pain and Insomnia

Just as there’s a relationship between chronic pain and the food you eat, new science studies point to a connection between your sleep patterns and chronic pain. Even otherwise healthy individuals who experienced just one night of sleeplessness can experience an “uptick” in pain sensitivity, which means getting consistent good sleep is good for us all.

Solving both your sleep and chronic pain problems could benefit your overall health, as well. Research has indicated that both chronic pain and sleep disturbances overlap in a multitude of physical and mental health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and depression.

We understand the suffering and frustration associated with both problems, and are here to provide some solutions.

Increased Pain = Decreased Sleep = Increased Pain

Research estimates that between 50% to 80% of those living with chronic pain also regularly experience sleep disruption. Whether persistent pain makes it difficult to relax and fall asleep in general, or resting for a period of time in one position causes joints and muscles to stiffen with pain, waking up in the night thanks to chronic pain is extremely common.

This disruption has a cumulative, adverse effect on our entire health. When our bodies are unable to experience extended REM sleep, we’re unable to achieve full mental and physical recovery. And when that disruption continues for many nights in a row due to pain, it negatively affects our energy during the day — and therefore our future nights. It’s a problem that can potentially snowball into something bigger.”

Impact of Medicine

Though medication can play a vital role in alleviating chronic pain, what may be doing you good in one department could be causing harm in others. For example, certain opioid prescriptions can be associated with sleep-related hypoventilation, central sleep apnea (CSA), and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Other pain medications that may interfere with healthy sleep patterns include:

  1. Alpha-blockers
  2. Beta-blockers
  3. Corticosteroids
  4. SSRI antidepressants
  5. ACE inhibitors
  6. ARBs
  7. Cholinesterase inhibitors
  8. H1 antagonists
  9. Glucosamine/chondroitin
  10. Statins

This means it’s vital to be in close conversation with your doctor about prescriptions for your pain management, as well as anything you may take to aid with sleep. Taking sleep aids in combination with pain prescriptions could greatly increase your risk for overdose, so monitoring all of your medications with your doctor is essential.

Ways to Improve Sleep, and Chronic Pain

Worrying about your chronic pain, your lack of sleep, and how they are contributing to each other may only elevate your stress levels — which can cause even more pain. So here’s some actions you can take to achieve the rest you sorely need.

  • Employ static stretches. Helpful for relaxing both your mind and body, gentle stretches done for 5 minutes within the hour before bedtime can soothe muscles, flex joints, and calm the mind.
  • Consider your blankets and pillows. The size, shape, and position of your pillows can shift your body’s position at night, which may have a negative impact on your pain. Equally, a weighted blanket may provide soothing comfort to sore muscles, though too much heat or being too cool can also disrupt your sleep. Spend a month experimenting with different shapes, sizes, coverings, and positions to find the right fit.
  • Aim for consistency. When you’ve had a sleepless night, it’s tempting to stay in bed longer in the morning. But waking up and going to sleep at consistent times can help your body establish a regular pattern.

We understand it may be frustrating not to have an “easy fix” for either your chronic pain or the sleep struggles it may be causing. We’re here to listen — and help find the solution unique to your needs.  Schedule an appointment with us online or call us at 770-929-9033.

Human spine vertebrae anatomy

What Is a Medial Branch Block?

A medial branch block is a diagnostic procedure doctors use to pinpoint the origins of a patient’s pain. The specific goal of the procedure is to identify whether or not facet joint issues may be the cause of discomfort. Find out more about what the process entails and whether it could be right for you below.

What Is the Medial Branch?

The medial branch is a group of nerves that attach to the facet joints in the spine. These facet joints connect the vertebrae together. In many cases, back pain signals to the brain may originate in the medial branch, particularly if the facet joints are injured or diseased.

Because the back is such a complex network of these nerves, bones, and soft tissue, it’s often challenging to locate the precise origin of a patient’s pain. To identify whether the medial branch could be the source, doctors use a numbing agent or “block” to temporarily alleviate any discomfort that might stem from this area. This procedure has proven an effective method for diagnosing and treating facet joint back pain in some studies, and we’ve seen excellent results in our patients, too.

What Does a Medial Branch Block Entail?

If we suspect the facet joints could be the source of your discomfort, we offer a medial branch block to investigate. During this procedure, you’ll lie face-down on a table. One of our providers will administer a local anesthetic, which will numb the skin and tissues above the medial branch.

Next, they’ll place a thin needle into the area under the guidance of a video x-ray device known as a fluoroscope, which helps locate the medial branch nerves. A contrast dye is sometimes also injected to ensure the needle is in the proper position.

Once the needle is in place, the doctor will inject a numbing medicine into the nerves, creating a temporary numbing effect. If the medial branch nerves are indeed the source of your pain, you should feel immediate relief. In some cases the process may need to be repeated, as insurance may require it or more than one level of the spine may need to be injected.

You’ll be monitored after your procedure, and you may be asked to keep track of your pain over several hours. If the block was successful, the doctor can recommend a procedure for more permanent relief.

A medial branch radiofrequency neurotomy is one such procedure. It reduces or eliminates facet joint pain caused by osteoarthritis, as well as spine conditions resulting from traumatic injuries. This relief typically lasts more than 6 months and is somewhat dependent on age. Similar to a medial branch block, radiofrequency neurotomy is minimally invasive. But instead of using just an anesthetic to block pain, the doctor will also administer a small, controlled electrical current to create heat that kills the nerve, and eliminates its pain signals. Patients require very little downtime, and can usually resume their normal routine within a day or two.

If you’re experiencing lower back pain and are seeking lasting relief, allow our team to help. Explore our extensive range of state-of-the-art therapies online, or call (770) 929-9033 to schedule an appointment.

Asian daughter comforting elderly mother

Is Chronic Pain Genetic?

People suffering from chronic pain understandably want to identify its underlying cause. The more we know about pain, the better we’re able to treat and prevent the suffering it may cause. Oftentimes, people wonder whether chronic pain has a genetic link. Here’s what you should know.

Do Genetics Play a Role in Chronic Pain?

Like dimples or an aversion to cilantro, many medical issues are hereditary, though often they result from a complex interplay of environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors. In recent decades, researchers have begun to speculate whether chronic pain is one of these health conditions.

Causes of genetic pain span far and wide, and illness or injury are often contributing factors. A chronic condition such as arthritis may also be the source of persistent discomfort. Regardless of the root cause, recent research has indicated a common link among individuals experiencing chronic pain.

In 2014, a study presented by the American Academy of Neurology evaluated 2,721 people diagnosed with chronic pain for specific genetic traits. It revealed that certain gene variants were more common in individuals with high pain perceptions, compared to those with lower pain perceptions.

In a second report, after studying more than 8,000 sets of twins, UK researchers also identified four chronic pain conditions which have genetic risk factors. Performed by a team at the King’s College London, the study showed that dry eye disease, musculoskeletal pain, pelvic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome were common in identical twins with the same DNA. Although environmental factors still contribute to a person’s risk of these conditions, the researchers believe that genes could account for up to two-thirds of individual risk.

Thanks, Mom & Dad: How Learning About Hereditary Pain May Actually Help

While chronic pain certainly isn’t a welcome trait to be passed down through the gene pool, knowing that it can be may help doctors better understand their patients’ needs. “Our study is quite significant because it provides an objective way to understand pain and why different individuals have different pain tolerance levels,” said Dr. Tobore Onojjigohfia, author of the 2014 study. In other words: there’s now a scientific explanation why some people feel pain more intensely than others.

Interestingly, genetic links aren’t the only common factor that people with chronic pain may share. Prior research has also shown that people with chronic pain tend to have lower endorphin levels in their spinal fluid. Endorphins are hormones which, among other things, alter pain perception at many different levels in the nervous system, impacting your experience of pain. For this reason, treatments for chronic pain are sometimes geared towards activities that increase endorphin levels.

Regardless of the cause, no one deserves to suffer from chronic pain. Whether or not your family has a history of pain-related conditions, it’s important to seek effective treatment for your pain’s underlying causes. This is precisely what the team at Alliance Spine & Pain Centers aims to do. We use effective approaches to target the conditions causing your pain, leading to reduced discomfort and a better overall quality of life. Explore your options by scheduling an appointment with us online or calling (770) 929-9033.

Woman on couch with back pain

Bias in Women’s Pain

You may have already had this conversation with friends and family: Who is able to tolerate more pain, women or men? Some are certain women have higher pain tolerance, due to familiarity with pain during childbirth and menstrual periods. Others believe men are more adept at “toughing out” physical pain.

Scientific research shows that men and women do experience pain differently, but that gender bias may play a part in how it is treated or even measured. Here is a closer look at the complexity of this issue.

Biological & Psychological Differences

An increased number of scientific studies have been conducted to clearly establish the differences in men and women when it comes to chronic pain. “Women are more likely than men to experience a variety of chronic pain syndromes and tend to report more severe pain at more locations than do men,” the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery reported in 2020, and many similar studies agree.

But a variety of factors may contribute to this difference, including anatomy, sex-hormone levels, inflammatory response, and even genetic predisposition. In a 2019 study, for example, women who developed chronic pain after a car accident were more likely to have an elevated series of specific RNA molecules encoded on their X chromosome — which women have two of, as opposed to men who have just one.

Psychological differences may also come into play. For example, Jennifer Kelly, PhD, of the Atlanta Center for Behavioral Medicine observed in 2010 that “Women tend to focus on the emotional aspects of pain . . . [and] may actually experience more pain as a result, possibly because the emotions associated with pain are negative.” Contrasting beliefs between the sexes about articulating or expressing pain could also challenge the ability (even for patients themselves) to gauge its severity.

How Gender Bias Intervenes

Nearly 20 years ago, authors Diane Hoffman and Anita Tarzian concluded in their paper “The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain,” that “In general, women report more severe levels of pain, more frequent incidences of pain, and pain of longer duration than men, but are nonetheless treated for pain less aggressively.” Further studies since have come to similar conclusions.

For example, in 2021, a report in The Journal of Pain “identifies a bias towards underestimation of pain in female patients, which is related to gender stereotypes.” Caregivers and medical professionals providers, the study concludes, “are more likely to recommend psychological treatment for females than males, and analgesics more frequently for males than females.” This means that women may not be receiving the prescriptive pain relief they need.

The gender of a care provider may not only influence treatment, but even a patient’s own articulation of her pain, as well. “I’ve noticed that women typically feel more comfortable discussing pain symptoms and being vulnerable with female health care providers,” Leia Rispoli, M.D., a pain management specialist and associate physician at Remedy Pain Solutions, told Glamour.

Inequity in medical research reinforces gender bias,” experts at Medical News Today explain. For many decades, women have been excluded from a variety of medical studies and clinical trials, leaving them out of the conversation regarding diagnosis and treatment altogether.

Individualized Treatment Can Make a Difference

Clearly identifying and articulating your pain, and advocating for your own best treatment may be the first and most effective step in finding the right pain solution to alleviate your own suffering — regardless of your gender. We are committed to finding solutions and relief for your chronic pain. Schedule an appointment with us online or call directly at 770-929-9033 to discuss what solutions may be best for you.

nurse working with senior patient experiencing shoulder pain

The Link Between Osteoporosis & Arthritis

Osteoporosis and arthritis are two conditions that can both affect your bones. While their causes, symptoms, and treatments are often different, they do share an important link, as having certain types of arthritis may make you more likely to develop osteoporosis. Let’s look more closely at their complex relationship, and how to navigate treatment for both.

What Are Osteoporosis and Arthritis?

In the case of osteoporosis, your overall bone density decreases, causing your bones to become more fragile and brittle. More than 53 million people in the U.S. are already affected, or are at risk for it due to low bone mass. According to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation, the condition develops when the body loses too much bone material, produces too little new bone to replace that loss, or a combination of both. Typically, a lifelong lack of calcium is the root cause.

Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease,” as symptoms may not manifest until your bone mass has already begun deteriorating. Loss of height, and an increase of bone fractures are two common signs that the condition has already progressed.

Arthritis is an umbrella term for joint pain or a joint condition with symptoms such as swelling, stiffness, decreased range of motion, and general joint discomfort. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and conditions related to it, and it is the number-one cause of disability in the U.S. Two of the most common types are osteoarthritis, which is a gradual wear-and-tear degenerative joint disease, and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an autoimmune inflammatory disease.

How Are Osteoporosis and Arthritis Linked?

While researchers are still investigating the precise cause, there is an established link between osteoporosis and inflammatory arthritis conditions. Specifically, people with inflammatory forms of arthritis such as RA have a greater risk of developing osteoporosis. The inflammation itself appears to increase the risk of osteoporosis and related fractures, especially in areas closest to the affected joints.

Rheumatologist Katherine Wysham, MD, adds that inactivity caused by RA can further increase osteoporosis risk. “Our patients are hurting,” she said to arthritis support group CreakyJoints in 2019. “They have pain, which prevents them from exercising. But we know that weight-bearing activity is really important to bones — they respond to that stimulus and become stronger. Without it, the body won’t increase muscle or bone.”

To further complicate matters, some of the medications used to treat RA can also lead to osteoporosis. While corticosteroids such as prednisone can very quickly reduce RA flares, they also pose a significant risk for weakening bones and suppressing their formation or repair. Corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis is the most prevalent form of secondary osteoporosis.

How Are Osteoporosis and Arthritis Treated?

Fortunately, it is possible to treat arthritis while protecting your bones. Lifestyle modifications for promoting bone health may include getting enough vitamin D and calcium in your diet or taking supplements, if needed. Vitamin D aids in the body’s process of absorbing calcium, thereby helping to renew bone material. Strength training and weight-bearing aerobic exercises can also strengthen your muscles and bones, while exercises designed to improve balance can help reduce your risk of fall-related fractures.

Outside of these home remedies, there are many pain treatment options that don’t involve the use of corticosteroids. Here at Alliance Spine & Health, we offer a range of state-of-the-art therapies to treat the cause of joint pain and deliver real relief. From radiofrequency ablation that relieves pain in the joint to platelet rich plasma (PRP) that promotes joint healing, our treatments can help restore your quality of life without the risk of increased bone loss.

To explore your options for relief from joint pain, schedule an appointment with our office by calling (770) 929-9033, or connecting with us online.

Person talking to doctor

How To Talk About Pain with Your Doctor

Living with chronic pain is an ongoing, daily stressor in itself. But it can also cause psychological and emotional stress that adds insult to injury — literally. Finding solutions with your doctor and pain specialists needn’t add to this discomfort.

At Alliance Spine and Pain Centers, we are committed to addressing your pain with open curiosity, kindness, and practical advice. Here are some tips for coordinating with your team to discover pain solutions together.

Ask Questions

You turn to your medical team because they have a lot of knowledge. But they don’t always know what you want to know. “Asking questions is one of the best ways to ensure you and your doctor are on the same page,” Dr. Ted Epperly, a clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine advised Time magazine. “And if your doctor doesn’t seem interested in answering, or you get a negative response, you need to find a new doctor.”

To be sure you are both communicating clearly, schedule an appointment specifically designed to address your pain questions, and provide thorough answers. For guidance, here are a few questions the U.S. News & World Report determined doctors wish their patients would ask:

  • How does my family history impact treatment?
  • What preventative care measures can I take?
  • What are other trusted sources of information I can utilize?
  • Do you have specific advice around prescriptions?
  • How does my sleep impact pain treatment?
  • Why are we conducting this test? What will the results reveal?
  • What do you do for your own health and well-being?

Take Note of Your Own Body

Outside resources may direct you toward successful pain management solutions, but starting with self-awareness might be the best way to empower you, and therefore your doctor.

“Think about the duration and quality of the pain,” advises REWIRE. “How you’d describe it if someone asked when it started. If anything has relieved it, and if anything has made it worse. Prepare an ‘elevator pitch’ of sorts. The more you can describe it, the better you’re going to be able to work with your physician.”

Climate, food consumption, over-the-counter pain medicines, and levels of physical activity may also impact your pain. Self-tracking these details even over a couple of weeks can paint a clearer picture of your condition, and help your pain management team craft a plan to alleviate it. Paying careful attention to how your pain impacts your work and personal life can also provide useful information.

Coordinate with Caregivers

Involving a trusted loved one — to take notes, ask questions, or provide private, thoughtful and honest feedback or support — may help you feel even more courage to speak up for yourself.

But coordinating conversations among all your caregivers may help even further. Can you (or your personal health advocate) bring your health team together in a conference call, or email chain? “When you’re seeing a whole bunch of different specialists,” Isabel Mavrides, a disability justice activist and organizer explains, “they don’t always talk, which can make the diagnostic process take much longer.” Finding a format that works best for you and your specialists (while keeping in mind HIPAA regulations to protect your privacy) can help ensure that everyone is clearly connected.

At Alliance Spine & Pain Centers, we’re here to advocate for and with you. Schedule an appointment online to discuss your pain management, and how we can work more specifically with you to find solutions. You can also call 770-929-9033 to set up a conversation.

illustrations of a human spinal cord

How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is a procedure you may have heard of if you have chronic pain. This process involves surgically inserting a device under your skin to send electrical signals to the brain, blocking pain responses.

Looking into SCS can provide hope, but it can also feel daunting. That’s why we’re here to break down the ins and outs of what you need to know.

What Causes Chronic Back Pain?

To understand how SCS helps chronic pain, it’s important to understand what first causes it. Glial cells are key contributors, as they send pain signals to the brain through the spinal cord. They can also contribute to pro-inflammatory responses, and inflame chronic pain sites.

These glial cell signals can be manipulated, however, with an SCS procedure.

How does Spinal Cord Stimulation Help?

An SCS system targets glial cells, modifying their pain signals to the brain. The procedure involves connecting a small device to thin wire leads that are implanted into a specific area in your back, continuously sending electrical pulses to the correct glial cells.

Even if it does not remove a pain’s source, research shows that 92.4% of patients who received SCS were satisfied with the results. While each patient experiences unique pain (and therefore a unique relief), SCS is considered successful when your pain is reduced at least by 50%.

How Patients Get Started

If you qualify for SCS, you will first undergo a trial procedure. During this phase, at least one insulated wire lead is placed through an epidural needle into your spinal canal. The needles are removed, leaving the wires in place and the wires are attached to an external battery — called a trial stimulator.

Once the leads and trial stimulator are connected, you and your physician will monitor your pain levels for about seven days. After this trial period, the lead is removed. If the relief is deemed sufficient, you may move forward with the permanent procedure.

The Permanent Procedure

The permanent procedure is not as daunting as it may sound. You can expect to go home the same day once these three steps are complete:

  1. Permanent leads are inserted into your spine. This is done with an epidural needle through a small incision.
  2. Another small incision is then made to insert the implantable pulse generator (IPG) beneath the skin, usually on the buttocks or abdomen. The leads are then connected to the IPG battery.
  3. Finally, a wireless electrical control unit programs the IPG’s electrical pulses. This way, you can turn the system on or off using the external control unit, or change its stimulation power.

After the Procedure

You may experience discomfort and swelling around the incision site for a few days. Once the incision has healed, you will be able to continue your daily activities, with less pain and discomfort.

Potential Risk

A 2011 retrospective review of SCS reported that hardware complications were the most common defaults in SCS procedures. Some patients (22.6%) experienced lead migration, where the wires shifted after time. Others (12%) experienced pain at the generator site.

Overall, SCS procedures are very safe, with few complications, and deaths or neurological deficits only rarely reported.

Who is Spinal Cord Stimulation Good For?

You may be a candidate for SCS if you have pain resulting from previous back or neck surgery,  diabetic neuropathy, or other chronic back, lower body, and arm pain.

Deciding the Best Spinal Cord Stimulator Device to Use

With the rapidly technology improvements for spinal cord stimulation, Alliance works closely with the top medical device companies as they advance their SCS systems. This industry’s innovative interventional pain management systems continuously improve to offer more benefits to a wider range of people needing this treatment.

Alliance physicians determine the type of SCS system for their patients based the patient’s type of pain and its source. Here are a few examples of the wide range of SCS treatment options that Alliance offers:

  • The HFX Solution treatment, the only spinal cord stimulation system approved by the FDA that uses high frequency stimulation to manage pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, or other chronic pain.
  • Nalu Neuromodulation training, a new device that will allow our physicians to help target pain through Peripheral Nerve Stimulation and Spinal Cord Stimulation using a generator that is ultra-small.
  • Medtronic DTM™ (Differential Target Multiplexed), a Spinal Cord Stimulation waveform to help treat patients with chronic, intractable low back pain.
  • Evoke® Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) System, a new investigational device designed to measure and record your body’s response to stimulation and makes millions of automatic, real-time adjustments to maintain a consistent level of pain relief.

If you are considering SCS, connect with Alliance Spine & Pain Centers. We understand the challenge of finding chronic pain relief, and our experts will help you find the answers. To schedule an appointment, Give us a call at 770-929-9033 or visit us online.