Using similar technology as his HealthONE colleagues performing deep-brain stimulation (see Making Life Golden Again), P/SL’s Dr. Giancarlo Barolat has been a pioneer in helping patients overcome insurmountable pain through neuromodulation, or stimulation of nerve cells, for 30 years.
By implanting a tiny pacemaker-like device, often in the spinal area, Barolat uses electrical impulses to modify pain signals in a patient’s back or limbs. Common problems include: spine or wrist pain in patients whose surgery failed (back, carpal tunnel); intractable headaches or pelvic pain; nervous disorder pain that fails drug treatment (peripheral neuropathy in diabetics); and a condition called regional complex pain syndrome, often a result of a minor trauma.
“Unlike drugs, electricity has no side effects; electricity is the natural way that the nervous system works.”
Because neurostimulation requires surgical intervention, patients must have suffered severe pain that has failed treatment for more than six months and be psychologically stable. Patients benefit from pain relief, a return to a more normal life, and a reduced need for debilitating painkillers. “Narcotic addiction is a huge issue right now,” Barolat says. “Unlike drugs, electricity has no side effects; electricity is the natural way that the nervous system works.” Because the procedure’s effectiveness varies, patients undergo a trial period before surgery. For patients who find success, the technology can last a lifetime, Barolat says. “I still have follow-up patients from 25 years ago.”