A new type of remote control ‘pacemaker’ for back pain is being trialled in the UK. The matchbox-sized device sends electrical pulses to muscles around the spine to strengthen them. The idea according to The Daily Mail Health is that stronger muscles take the strain off the damaged spine and thus reduce pain.
Six out of ten patients responded to treatment and now, around 100 are taking part in a new, larger clinical trial in the UK and elsewhere. They say that there is more evidence that muscles play a major role in low back pain and one of the theories is that the brain tries to limit painful movement by reducing or blocking the nerve signals that activate muscles. This then aggravates the initial problem and the muscles become fragile from not being used and then cannot properly support the spine.
This new device is a less invasive surgical option for low back pain and is designed to replace the nerve signals blocked by the brain and stimulate the muscles to keep them strong. It consists of a battery and tiny electrodes and is implanted in the back just under the skin above the waistline, in an hour-long operation which is done under general anaesthetic.
The electrodes are attached to the dorsal nerves in the spinal cord that supply the muscles. Patients then use a remote control to activate the stimulation for 30 minutes a day. As the muscles around the spine are strengthened over time, the brain senses reactivation and again starts firing the nerve signals that activate the muscles and further stabilise the spine.
Recent results from earlier trials involving 53 patients showed that the device can be very effective. Improvements were seen in around 60 per cent and quality of life improved in 80 per cent. It’s certainly something I am personally going to keep my eye on for the future.