Thursday, December 16, 2010

Surgically implanted sensor uses iPhone technology to ease pain

Following a workplace accident more than four years ago, Donald Anderson was hit with excruciating pain that shot up his left leg.

He turned to surgery, chiropractic, physiotherapy and countless drug treatments; nothing helped. A 20-minute walk would leave him in agonizing pain.

But the 57-year-old Regina man says his pain has decreased by as much as 40 per cent -and his medication by 80 per cent -thanks to a wristwatch-sized device that uses motion-sensor technology similar to what's found in your iPhone or Nintendo Wii.

"Right off the bat, there was a noticeable improvement," Anderson says. "I sleep better, I can sit longer, walk farther -pretty much do everything with less pain than was the case previously."

Anderson and nine other Canadians with chronic pain have been implanted with the technology, developed by Minneapolis-based Medtronic and approved by Health Canada two months ago.

The device -called a RestoreSensor neurostimulator -sends out electric currents to automatically neutralize pain when it senses certain changes in the body's position.

Older models of neurostimulators require the patient to manually adjust the level of stimulation each time posture changes and pressure is shifted.

The motion-sensor technology -triggered in the same way an iPhone screen flips with a simple shift of the wrist -eliminates the need for frequent adjustment.

"It knows the position of the body ... all the time," says Dr. Krishna Kumar, a chronic pain expert and neurosurgeon with nearly 50 years experience who helped develop the technology.

The amount of fluid around each vertebrae of the spinal column changes as the patient sits, stands, walks or lies down, explains Kumar.

"The idea is that we stop the pain messages from getting to the conscious level so the pain will improve, the drug level will come down and the patient will get functionally better," says Kumar.

Kumar says about one per cent of the Canadian population -or 340,000 people -suffer from this kind of pain and could greatly benefit from the technology.

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