Nerves run all throughout the spinal cord. Therefore, it is not surprising that spinal cord injuries often leave patients with chronic pain. For example, paralyzed patients often have direct damage to nerves in the spinal cord that causes neurogenic pain (originating in the nerves).
In addition, like anyone else, patients with spinal cord injuries can experience other kinds of pain such as that from overuse injuries. For example, shoulder pain from propelling a wheelchair.
Although many patients respond well to things like medical treatment and physical therapy, surgical treatment may be indicated for patients who don't get relief from other methods.
For example, spinal cord stimulation has been show to reduce pain by 50% or more in as many as 70% of patients who undergo the procedure. The procedure involves implanting electrodes in the epidural space that deliver electricity to the spinal cord.
The electrical impulses are thought to block pain signals along the spinal cord, preventing the signals from the injured nerves from reaching the brain. The implant is initially put in temporarily with the electrical impulses controlled by the patient. If the system is found to be working a programmable pacemaker is added to control the electrical impulses and the implant become permanent.
The Stanford Clinical Neurosciences Department is one of the few places in the world offering spinal cord stimulation for patients with neurogenic pain following spinal cord injury.
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