Chronic foot or ankle pain can be frustrating and interfere with your daily life and quality of life. Not being able to walk or exercise without pain can severely limit your overall movement as well as your ability to work, take care of your loved ones, or enjoy everyday activities.
At Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists, we are committed to helping our patients control or eradicate their foot pain, so they can return to enjoying their lives. One tool we utilize to help alleviate certain chronic foot pain conditions is a neurostimulator.
What Is a Neurostimulator?
A neurostimulator is a medical device that sends electrical impulses to the brain, spinal cord, or nerves to help regulate pain. It is often used with other forms of treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy and fibromyalgia. This minimally invasive treatment for chronic pain has many benefits and has been approved by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of pain caused by certain conditions. It’s also covered by most health insurance programs.
If you or someone you love suffers from chronic pain that has been persistent despite physical therapy and/or medication, it’s possible that a neurostimulator could help ease or eliminate that pain.
How Neurostimulation Works
The idea of electrical pulses running through your body, and specifically through your nervous system, might sound frightening or painful. But in reality, neurostimulation therapy is minimally invasive, very safe, and virtually painless.
It works like this. A small battery-powered pack is attached to the ear or the lower spine, with thin wires that access the nervous system in the area—the spinal cord or vagal nerve. These packs produce electrical pulses regularly that reduce or eliminate pain.
These external electrical pulses reduce and/or stop pain because your body uses its system of nerves to relay information from sources of pain up the spinal cord and into the brain. Electrical pulses disrupt those pain signals, offering pain relief and stopping some chronic types of pain.
Meet Our Nerve Stimulators
Neurostimulation therapy comes in several forms, and we offer the following two different types at Alliance Foot & Ankle Specialists:
- Primary Relief Vagal Nerve Stimulator. The Primary Relief Vagal Nerve stimulator is a cutting-edge therapy proven effective in treating chronic pain syndromes. It functions by applying electrical currents through three tiny needles to the vagus nerve, which is accessed through the ear. Once applied, the device runs for 10 days before exhausting its battery supply. During this time, the vagus nerve is stimulated constantly, which results in consistent activation of the parasympathetic nervous system, a reduction in inflammatory cytokines, calming to brain stem structures associated with pain, and an increased sensitivity to endogenous opioids. The combination of these effects has aided us in reducing pain in patients previously resistant to traditional therapies, including narcotics.
- Implantable Neurostimulator Pulse Generator. This battery-powered device is about the size of a half-dollar, is surgically implanted near the spine, and is often used to treat leg pain. You are in charge of the device and can signal it to deliver electrical current when needed.
The Benefits of Neurostimulation for Your Chronic Pain
Living with chronic pain can be difficult and challenging, but neurostimulation can help patients regain their ability to participate in activities they once enjoyed. Studies have shown that patients who use neurostimulation experience improved quality of life scores compared to those who do not use it. This improvement can range from better sleep patterns to increased mobility and overall well-being. Other benefits include:
- Better pain management. Again, neurostimulation can be effective in managing chronic foot pain, especially in conditions such as diabetic peripheral neuropathy or CRPS, helping patients to live more comfortably.
- Improved circulation. Neurostimulation techniques may enhance blood flow to the feet, which is crucial for wound healing and reducing the risk of complications in patients with circulatory issues, such as those with diabetes.
- Improved muscle function. Electrical stimulation can be used to promote muscle contractions, which may be beneficial in cases where muscle weakness or atrophy is present. This is particularly relevant in rehabilitation after foot surgery or an injury.
- Neurological rehabilitation. For patients with neurological conditions affecting the feet, such as peripheral neuropathy, neurostimulation may be part of a broader rehabilitation strategy to improve nerve function and sensory perception in the feet.
- Reduced dependency on medications. In some cases, neurostimulation may offer an alternative or complementary approach to pain management, potentially reducing the reliance on medications that may have side effects or pose risks of dependency.
- Avoidance of surgery. Successful nerve stimulation may allow some patients to avoid more invasive alternatives such as surgery, which can be costly, risky, or come with a long recovery time.
- Economic benefits. Neurostimulation is often an economical and cost-saving option as opposed to expensive drugs or surgeries.
Not all patients will benefit from a neurostimulator, so it’s essential to speak with your physician about your particular condition to decide if this type of treatment would be right for you.
Our Texas Neurostimulator for Chronic Foot and Ankle Pain
A podiatrist will examine your feet and evaluate the cause and severity of your pain to determine if neurostimulation would be a viable treatment option. Neurostimulators are most commonly used to treat chronic foot or ankle pain caused by the following conditions:
Diabetic Peripheral Neuropathy
Diabetic peripheral neuropathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the nerves in the extremities, especially the feet. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and pain and often result in loss of sensation, making patients with diabetes more susceptible to foot injuries and infections. Neurostimulation therapy can help reduce or minimize this chronic discomfort and pain.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness. While this condition doesn't specifically target the feet, any patient with fibromyalgia may experience foot pain as part of the overall discomfort associated with the condition. Because fibromyalgia is difficult to treat, neurostimulation is a valid option, especially when more traditional options fail.
Type 1: Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), now more commonly known as Type 1 Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), is a chronic condition that causes severe pain, swelling, and changes in skin color and temperature, often affecting one limb, including the feet. It is thought to be caused by an abnormal response to injury or trauma. CRPS is usually treated with very high doses of pain medication, but neurostimulation is a therapy that can reduce the use of prescription drugs.
Type 2 Complex Regional Pain Syndrome
Causalgia, also known as Type 2 Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), is characterized by prolonged and severe pain, often following a specific injury, stroke, or heart attack. This condition can affect the feet and is associated with changes in skin color, temperature, and abnormal sweating in the affected area. Like with Type 1 CRPS, nerve stimulation can help treat this uncommon and painful disease.
Post-Traumatic Pain Syndrome
Post-traumatic pain syndrome refers to chronic pain that persists after an injury has healed or after surgery. This syndrome may involve persistent pain and discomfort in the feet even after the initial healing process. This syndrome is often related to nerve damage, and nerve stimulation may bring pain relief to those suffering from this chronic and long-term condition.