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Dr. Winfree Explains New Technique for Chronic Pain: DRG Stimulation

Buying a new car is a big decision. That’s why you check the car from every angle and ensure it has all the features on your list—from fuel efficiency and safety to comfort.

Then you take it for a test drive, maybe two. And only once you have all the information you want do you decide to buy.

Adopting a new treatment method is something our neurosurgeons do with even greater diligence. While deciding on a new car may take a weekend, a month, or even months, our neurosurgeons eye a new treatment for many years to make sure it is safe and effective for their patients.

This often requires several rigorous studies involving multiple institutions and a thorough evaluation, usually worldwide, of the evidence.

One of the latest treatments to pass our neurosurgeons’ high standards is for patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), a type of chronic pain that causes persistent pain in the arms or legs.

This new treatment, called dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulation, was the topic of a blog post written by neurosurgeon Dr. Christopher Winfree for The Neurosurgery Blog, a site run jointly by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

CRPS is typically treated with conservative measures first, such as medication and physical therapy, but if those fail, a surgical method called neuromodulation therapy may be recommended.

Neuromodulation therapy is a broad group of minimally invasive techniques in which electrodes are implanted in the spine or site of the patient’s pain to deliver brief, mild impulses of electricity to nerves. The electrical impulses serve to distract the brain from registering the pain.

In his blog post, Dr. Winfree explained how a newer method of neuromodulation therapy, called DRG Stimulation, targets a bundle of nerves (the dorsal root ganglion) adjacent to the spinal cord. The dorsal root ganglion has long been of interest to Dr. Winfree and other neurosurgeons because it has been identified as a possible origin of pain for patients with CRPS.

However, because the dorsal root ganglion is confined to a narrow bony tunnel between spinal bones, implanting electrodes near it has historically been a challenge. To overcome the challenge, DRG Stimulation employs thin electrodes that are specially designed to fit comfortably in the small space near the dorsal root ganglion.

The effectiveness of DRG stimulation for patients with CRPS has been under study. One research project in particular evaluated DRG stimulation among 152 volunteer patients and showed that it offered better pain relief than the traditional treatment of implanting electrodes more generally along the spinal cord.

Dr. Winfree is one of the few neurosurgeons who now use DRG stimulation to provide pain relief for patients with difficult cases of CRPS.

If you suffer from CRPS and want to know if you could be a candidate for DRG Stimulation, call to request an appointment with Dr. Winfree.

Learn more about Dr. Winfree at his bio page here.


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