Back pain is among the most common complaints in adults of all ages. Most adults will suffer from back pain at least once in their lives (and probably more). Although chronic back pain is less common, it is still considered particularly common in the general population. In recent years more and more people are suffering from chronic back pain, probably due to sedentary lifestyle, obesity and stress, which increase the risk of back pain.
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In most cases the treatment for back pain will be pharmacological or surgical. But now a new development offers another solution that may change the lives of many people. A team led by researchers at the University of Cambridge has developed a miniature inflatable electronic implant that is actually part of a kind of Spinal Cord Stimulation, a device that reduces nerve pain in the back through spinal stimulation.
Painkiller is a well-known treatment for back pain, based on electrical electrodes that transmit electrical pulses in the spine and reduce the intensity of the pain. This treatment is invasive and involves a surgical procedure, but the new implant is in fact an upgrade of the existing method – it can be performed without the need for surgery.
“Spinal stimulation is a treatment that is considered a last resort, for those whose pain has become so severe that it does not allow them to perform daily activities,” explains Damiano Barron, a neuroscience specialist at Cambridge University who took part in the study. “An effective device that does not require invasive surgery could provide relief for many people.”
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The researchers’ difficulty was in finding a treatment that would be less invasive but also effective. Another treatment offered to those suffering from chronic back pain, which is considered less invasive and requires the insertion of a minimal device with a large syringe is considered less effective in relieving the pain. According to the researchers, the new implant offers a treatment option that is also less invasive and equally effective. It can be inserted using a syringe that is not too thick (slightly thicker than an epidural injection). Once the implant has been inserted, it can be augmented using air (just like an inflatable mattress). The researchers actually used flexible electronic equipment that could be resized after transplantation.
So far, researchers have tried the new implant in an in-body experiment on a spinal model and in bodies donated to science – and it is already registered as a patent. The next step will be, of course, to test it on living and breathing humans and only then will its effectiveness be proven. The results of the study were recently published in the journal Science Advances and the researchers believe that this is a development that will bring about a change in the lives of many people.