A doctor shows an older woman an X-rayShare on Pinterest
Spinal cord stimulation is now used to treat a number of conditions. milorad kravic/Getty Images
  • Spinal cord stimulation is a treatment in which a device is implanted under the skin that blocks pain signals to the brain.
  • The stimulation is used to treat a number of conditions, but researchers say it’s showing promise in relieving some of the pain associated with diabetic neuropathy.
  • They report that in a recent study people with diabetic neuropathy reported a 76% decrease in pain after just 6 months.

Spinal cord stimulation may provide a significant reduction in pain in people with diabetic neuropathy.

Researchers are reporting that people who received spinal cord stimulation treatment had a 76% decrease in their pain after just 6 months.

Their findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting in April.

The research hasn’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Diabetic neuropathy often results in poor quality of life, depression, anxiety, and impaired sleep, and the available medications can be ineffective for many people or have side effects that people can’t tolerate,” Dr. Erika Petersen, the author of the study and the director of the Section of Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said in a press release.

“These results are exciting because there is an urgent need for more effective therapies,” she added.

Diabetic neuropathy is a type of nerve damage caused by type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

It can cause symptoms such as numbness and pain in the hands and feet as well as problems with the bladder or heart.

Up to 50% of the 37 million people living with diabetes in the United States have peripheral neuropathy. This is nerve damage that impacts the feet, legs, and sometimes the arms and hands.

More than 30% of people with diabetes have autonomic neuropathy, which is nerve damage that impacts internal organs. This can cause problems for the digestive system, bladder, sex organs, eyes, sweat glands, heart, and blood pressure.

The research presented this week is a preliminary study that examined the efficacy of spinal cord stimulation as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy.

The study was supported by Nevro Corporation, which makes the spinal cord stimulation system.

In the study, 216 people who had symptoms of diabetic neuropathy for a year and who weren’t responding to medications took part.

Half of the people were given spinal cord stimulation together with regular medical treatment for a period of 6 months.

The other half were only given regular medical treatment.

The participants were followed for two years.

The researchers reported that at 6 months those who had received spinal cord stimulation had an average of a 76% reduction in pain. In contrast, the people who weren’t in the spinal stimulation group experienced a 2% increase in their pain at six months.

About 62% of those in the spinal stimulation group reported improvements in their motor function, sensation, and reflexes. The same was seen in just 3% of the group with regular medical care.

At two years, the spinal cord stimulation group had an 80% improvement in their average pain and 66% continue to have improvements in their reflexes, motor function, and sensation.

Whilst spinal cord stimulation has been used for decades for other pain conditions, its efficacy for diabetic neuropathy is still being explored.

“We are in the early stages of understanding spinal cord stimulation for diabetic neuropathy. In many cases, when medication therapy fails to relieve symptoms, a sedentary lifestyle ensues secondary to the pain or discomfort associated with the neuropathy. Spinal cord stimulation could be critical in getting diabetic patients moving,” Dr. Anand Veeravagu, the director of Minimally Invasive NeuroSpine Surgery at Stanford University in California, told Healthline.

“These numbers of the success rate of spinal cord stimulation for diabetic peripheral neuropathy are impressive given how debilitating the disease can be for patients who are often suffering from symptoms for several months or years,” Veeravagu noted.

“I believe that with time, these numbers may see further improvement as well,” he added.

Spinal cord stimulation involves implanting a device under the skin.

This then delivers electrical stimulation to the spinal cord that cuts off pain signals to the brain.

“It’s a safe form of technology to help with patients with chronic pain. Obviously, any type of device that is implanted comes with risks… it’s just like a pacemaker. But overall, if patients are compliant it is quite safe,” Dr. Irene Wu, the associate director of the UCLA Comprehensive Pain Center in California, told Healthline.

“The great thing about spinal cord stimulation is that it always comes with a trial phase,” she added. “So you can trial the device for seven to 10 days via a percutaneous approach where there is no incision or suturing and therefore minimal recovery time.”

The study authors noted that confirmation of success rates in larger groups of people with diabetic neuropathy is needed.

The experts who spoke with Healthline say that spinal cord stimulation could make a significant difference in the quality of life of patients who have not responded well to other treatment options.

“There are several medications that can be utilized to help control the symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy which have various success rates reported in the literature. Despite this, there are a significant number of patients in which medications are not sufficient to control symptoms and improve quality of life and patients often struggle to do basic activities such as walking and even sleeping,” Veeravagu said.

“It is foreseeable that if spinal cord stimulation provides long-term robust relief or improvement of symptoms, the medication burden these patients are under may lessen,” he added.