Pain is our body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. Whether it’s a bump or bruise, sprain or strain, we know immediately that we’re injured and we take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves and recover. But when the pain continues long after we’re healed, something very different is happening. This is known as chronic pain, and it can have a real impact on our day-to-day life and even our mental wellbeing.

If you or someone you love suffers from chronic pain, you know how difficult it can be to live with. The good news is that there are now innovative and effective treatment alternatives close to home, thanks to the new Interventional Pain Management program at YRMC PhysicianCare in Prescott Valley.

How is chronic pain different?

When we injure ourselves, pain sensors are immediately activated at the site of the injury. Electrical signals are sent from the pain sensors, nerve to nerve, until they reach the brain. The brain then translates these signals to tell us that we are hurt.

Once we’re healed, the signals typically discontinue. However, in the case of chronic pain, the pain sensors continue to send new signals to the brain for weeks, months, or even years after the injury. The brain continues to interpret these signals as pain.

According to a report published in The Journal of Pain: Official Journal of the America Pain Society, chronic pain affects one in four adults over the age of 40 in the United States. The effects of living with chronic pain can be far-reaching. In addition to the pain itself, patients can experience stress, depression and other mental conditions.

How is chronic pain treated?

Craig Leicht MD, MHP is one of the practitioners with the Interventional Pain Management team at YRMC PhysicianCare. Dr. Leicht stresses that although Interventional Pain Management is a comparatively new specialty, it has already made a significant impact on chronic pain management.

“In the past, much of pain management was handled by anesthesiologists and physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists. It may have been considered more of a sub-specialty,” says Dr. Leicht. “Now, Interventional Pain Management is a true specialty. My focus is the interventional aspect, which includes procedural and minimally invasive operative interventions. There is also a medication management specialist as well as a physical medicine and rehabilitation, or physiatry specialist. We also consult with the YRMC Physical Rehabilitation and Occupational Therapy Departments.”

The Interventional Pain Management team works closely with the patient to determine the best approach for each individual. The goal is to relieve, reduce or manage pain so that patients can return to their daily activities quickly and without heavy reliance on medications.

Dr. Leicht stresses that patient involvement is key.

“My first visit with a patient will last up to one hour or more,” he says. “We discuss the spectrum of pain management approaches, beginning with weight loss and a walking program. I encourage my patients to get off of their cane or walker and get outside with walking poles if at all possible. Studies show that walking poles can ease 50 to 70% of the pressure in the lower back. Of course, walking is good for the brain and psyche too.”

“Interventions such as Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) may ultimately be the best option, but it’s important to try lifestyle adjustments first,” he continues. “SCS is a tool to manage pain, along with lifestyle changes. SCS can be life changing, but the patient has to participate as much as they are able.”

Download this Chronic Pain Assessment Checklist that you can review before you visit your healthcare provider.

What is Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)?

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is a minimally invasive procedure where two thin wires are placed in the back, near the spinal cord. The wires are connected to a small battery powered pulse generator, which is implanted under the skin. The pulse generator sends mild electrical pulses to the spinal cord. These pulses act to calm the nerves. This, in turn, minimizes the pain signals that are sent to the brain.

A variety of conditions respond well to SCS, including failed back syndrome, which is fusion after previous lumbar surgery. SCS can also be effective for low back pain and/or sciatica that have not been treated effectively by epidurals or other methods. In addition, phantom limb pain experienced by amputees, as well as causalgia, which is similar to phantom limb pain, but without an amputation, can respond well to SCS.

Can I try SCS before I commit to the procedure?

Dr. Leicht requires that his patients undergo an SCS trial before making the decision to have the permanent procedure. In fact, SCS is one of the few surgical procedures that utilize a true trial prior to permanent implantation. For the trial, two temporary wires are inserted into the back, near the spinal cord. They are attached to a pulse generator, which is worn on your belt or taped to your side. You can use the temporary SCS for a week to see if it’s right for you.

What additional new treatments and technology are available through YRMC’s Interventional Pain Management Program?

Most recently, Dr. Leicht is the only physician in our area to offer two new, minimally invasive procedures that treat spinal canal stenosis with neurogenic claudication, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal causing pressure on the nerves. This condition causes leg pain and/or weakness after walking and is most often seen in our older population.

These new, leading edge, minimally invasive procedures are called Minimally Invasive Lumbar Decompression (MILD) and Vertiflex Superion. Prior to these new advances in technology, the only option for relief was major open back surgery with fusion, which has a 1 to 2 year recovery period and is typically not recommended for older patients.

The MILD and Vertiflex Superion procedures are both done on an outpatient basis using local anesthesia, making them better options for many older patients. Recovery is a week or less and both procedures have a 70 to 90% five-year effectiveness rate.

“This brings a huge benefit to our patients,” says Dr. Leicht. “For those who can’t walk five feet without leaning on a shopping cart, these new procedures can often allow them to walk all day. We’re proud to be able to offer them here in the Quad-Cities for the first time.”

 How can I learn more?

The Interventional Pain Management team is here to help get you back to the things you enjoy most in life. Best of all, you no longer have to leave our community to benefit from the latest pain management technology.

For more information on the spectrum of pain management services available, or to schedule a consultation, you can contact the Interventional Pain Management team at (928) 777-1002. Their office is located at the Del E. Webb Outpatient Center, 3262 N. Windsong Drive, Suite A, Prescott Valley, Arizona.