Chronic Pain Sufferers – Take Comfort in New Options
Bryan Oh, MD
When it comes to Sciatica pain treatment, we spine surgeons have historically been left with few options when it comes to effective and lasting pain relief. But new advances in modern medicine are paving the way for new pain treatments that can deliver the precise amount of sciatica pain relief and even better – without the use of intense pharmacologic drug therapies. Three of the latest and most promising Sciatica treatment options:
1) Stem Cells.
Stem cells have created an emergent treatment hope in several areas of medicine. For Sciatica treatment specifically, a few pioneering physician groups, including BASIC, are using stem cells as a treatment for pain caused by Sciatica. Once harvested and purified by a special lab, stem cells are injected into the area where the irritated spinal nerve is located. The exact mechanism by which stem cells work is currently under intense investigation. One leading idea is that stem cells act as a “super anti-inflammatory.” Epidural steroid injections are commonly used to treat Sciatica arising from inflammation of a spinal nerve root. Steroids are known to be a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. In our experience, many of our patients who have received stem cell treatment for Sciatica pain have had lasting relief for more than a year. This is significantly longer than patients who have received standard epidural steroid injections. Once the stem cell mechanism of action is better understood, stem cell injections for Sciatica may be more and more common.
2) New Biomaterials.
Last week, scientists led by Xifeng Liu, PhD, presented new research at a meeting of the American Chemical Society about a new polymer bone graft. More specifically, the scientists have developed a biodegradable polymer that can be surgically placed in damaged vertebrae. This polymer should be able to grow to just the right size and shape to fix the spinal column in the case of trauma or injury. The material can be dehydrated down to a size compatible with incision size in a spinal surgery. Once implanted, the material can absorb bodily fluids and expand to the appropriate size. If the spinal column is damaged, there can be compression of nerve roots as a result of that damage, sometimes causing Sciatica pain to ensue. If an implanted biomaterial can restore normal spinal alignment and height, it is conceivable that it can be used to treat certain causes of Sciatica. Here is a great new video about it from the Mayo Clinic team that developed the material https://youtu.be/nOF73Z7qe4E
3) Virtual Reality.
Research and development in virtual reality is blossoming. Not long ago, virtual reality was felt to be a nice place for entertainment. Today, however, it is gaining traction in many different spaces, including medicine. In sports, for instance, virtual reality is being used to place players in specific game situations in a way that would have been impossible just a few short years ago. The Stanford University football team uses this as an important practice element. So do the New York Jets. In the world of pain management, virtual reality is also gaining ground. McCall and Malott stated that human beings have a limited capacity of attention and an individual must attend to a painful stimulus in order for it to be perceived as painful. Thus, if the individual is attending to another stimulus away from the painful stimulus, they will perceive the noxious stimulus as less intense. Sciatica can be a very strong and painful stimulus. The use of virtual reality to treat Sciatica and other painful conditions is still in its infancy. However, with the increase in sophistication of instruments, treating Sciatica and other pain conditions with virtual reality will become more and more common in the not too distant future.
Samsung gear VR
Image credit: Samsung