New Device Could Revolutionize Chronic Pain Treatment
A new FDA-approved device is just one of many that could radically change how chronic pain is treated in America.
The SPRINT PNS device is one of a growing class of FDA-approved devices that relieve chronic pain. They have fewer side effects than drugs and, if used in conjunction with other treatments, such as over-the-counter pain treatments and physical therapy, can eliminate patients’ pain altogether. If their popularity continues among doctors and patients, the devices may soon become the standard of care to treat chronic pain.
“Pain specialists are looking for new solutions to treat pain, for alternatives to opioids and to more invasive and expensive surgeries,” said Maria Bennett, president, CEO and founder of SPR Therapeutics, the company that makes the SPRINT device, to CNBC.
An estimated 100 million Americans are suffering from chronic pain — pain that lasts more than three months and is caused by diseases such as arthritis or fibromyalgia, a remnant of an injury from an accident or surgery or from an unknown source.
In the past, doctors could only suggest that patients undergo physical therapy or cognitive-behavioral therapy to help them deal with their pain. For some patients, those techniques don’t provide sufficient relief, so doctors often turn to opiate painkillers, which can cause addiction and long-term health. problems, such as insomnia, digestive issues and even increased sensitivity to pain.
Many of these devices are designed to specifically treat peripheral pain — pain in nerves that flow from every part of the body up through the spinal cord and into the brain. Some, such as the SPRINT PNS system, approved by the FDA in July to treat chronic pain in the back and extremities, have threadlike wires that need to be inside the body; the Stimwave device is implanted with a small needle. Other devices treat pain from outside the body.
Each of these devices works by disrupting the pain signal as they move from nerves throughout the body to the brain. There are advantages to this. The devices are not permanent and often relieve pain after just a few weeks or months of use, with many fewer side effects than opiate painkillers; once the pain subsides, the device is removed.
The devices also don’t interfere with most other health issues, which means that few patients are excluded from using them (though there are exceptions — people with pacemakers shouldn’t use the SPRINT PNS system, for example). And clinical trials indicate that the devices are quite effective if placed properly, though sometimes patients will use the devices for multiple sessions if the pain comes back after the first round.
There are some drawbacks, such as the devices running a small risk of infection and often costing tens of thousands of dollars if one has to pay for them out of pocket. But to most patients and practitioners, the benefits of the devices outweigh their detriments.