Back-pain device implanted in first UK patient

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A pain-management device developed in the US has been implanted into a patient for the first time in the UK by doctors at Guy’s and St Thomas’ hospital in London.

The Medtronic RestoreSensor neurostimulator treats chronic back pain using Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS), a process where mild electrical pulses are delivered to the spinal cord to mask the body’s pain signals and replace them with a tingling sensation.

The neurostimulator is claimed to be the first in the world to use motion-sensing technology. It can sense a change in the patient’s body position or activity level and automatically adjust how much pain-relieving stimulation to deliver. For example, if the patient is lying on their back then a lower stimulation will be delivered, but if they are lying on their front then a higher dose will be delivered.

Until now, patients have only been able to use devices that deliver pre-set levels of constant stimulation, which meant they had to frequently change their pain-relief settings manually whenever they changed position or activity. This often led to Spinal Cord Stimulation users experiencing broken sleep due to inadequate pain-relieving stimulation.

Dr Adnan Al-Kaisy, one of the world’s leading pain-management consultants, carried out the first procedure using the Medtronic RestoreSensor. He said: ’This is a very significant improvement on traditional Spinal Cord Stimulation implants because, for the first time, it will automatically increase or reduce the pain relief the patient receives − particularly during the night. I’ve been working in this field for 15 years and this is technology we have always dreamt of.’

Dr Al-Kaisy expects it to be used with some patients who suffer from severe leg or back pain, or post-surgery problems, who have not responded to traditional therapy or medication. ’When successful, it reduces pain by around 80 per cent,’ he said.

Robert Mason, 35, from Berkshire, was one of the first patients to benefit from this new technology. The former agricultural engineer had been forced to give up his job eight years ago after a freak accident at work left him with chronic pain in his back and legs.

After the operation, he said: ’I can now put my children on my lap and read books to them without worrying about it. Before the operation this was very painful, the children had to be very careful and even then I’d probably have to move them off after a couple of minutes.’

Spinal-cord stimulation was approved for use in adults with certain forms of chronic neuropathic pain in October 2008 by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE, TA159). RestoreSensor will now be rolled out nationally, with 25 hospitals expected to offer the service.