Even if you haven’t seen the “Star Wars” films, you’ve probably heard of the character Luke Skywalker. In recent talks in Australia, at Johns Hopkins and UCLA, neurosurgeon—and avid “Star Wars” fan—Dr. Christopher Winfree of Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital referenced this classic saga.
With a young Luke Skywalker dressed in white and wielding a glowing lightsaber on the presentation screen, Dr. Winfree recounted the first film’s theme of new hope. That same sentiment is currently being felt in neurosurgery too, because of a new treatment that offers patients with chronic pain better pain relief.
This new treatment, called high-frequency stimulation, was the focus of Dr. Winfree’s presentations. Dr. Winfree, Director of Columbia’s Peripheral Nerve and Neurological Pain Centers was invited to share his expertise at a meeting of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Australia and again as a visiting professor at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Nerves throughout the body act as messengers, carrying information to and from the brain. When damaged, these nerves can get stuck repeating a signal over and over. When that signal is pain, and it continues uninterrupted for more than three months, physicians define it as a chronic pain condition.
Chronic pain affects about 100 million people in the United States. That’s more than heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer combined. Most people with chronic pain are first treated with nonsurgical care, such as medication or physical therapy. When these measures fail, surgery may be considered.
Spinal cord stimulation (high-frequency or otherwise) is often a good option for patients considering surgery. This procedure involves implanting electrodes near the spine. The electrodes deliver mild electrical impulses generated by a pacemaker-like device imbedded just under the skin. The electrical stimulation masks the pain signals but can also produce a pins-and-needles sensation in the area.
Sometimes this tingling sensation is poorly tolerated by patients. As Dr. Winfree explained in his talks, in these cases, surgeons can turn to high-frequency spinal cord stimulation. Here, the electrical pulses are delivered by the spinal cord stimulator at a much higher rate. For some patients, this faster-paced stimulation has no tingling side effects and can be more effective at relieving pain.
Dr. Winfree regularly treats patients with chronic pain and knows that improvements like this can make all the difference. That’s why he strives to provide the best and latest treatment options to his patients and is enthusiastic about sharing innovations with other physicians. In this way he not only helps his own patients but offers new hope to patients far and wide.
Image source: ©geralt/pixabay
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