By Alexander Germanis
Trickling throughout Central Illinois are a number of small streams and rivers. Streams like these are tributaries for larger rivers like the Illinois, which in turn feed into greater rivers like the Mississippi.
Like the mighty Old Man River, the spinal cord is the main channel into which flow the myriad nerves spread throughout the body. Just as the Mississippi flows into the even greater Gulf of Mexico, the spinal cord courses up to the brain: the master of the nervous system.
That is how the sensations of pain are felt, explains Dr. Ramsin Benyamin, Founder and Director of Millennium Pain Center in Bloomington. “All painful conditions from everywhere in your body come together, travel in the back through the spinal cord, all the way to the brain. The brain is where you actually feel the pain.”
With Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), however, that pain can have mysterious origins. As described in last month’s article, CRPS is a condition of extreme pain felt in the extremities like the hands or feet, but the pain is disproportionate to the initiating injury or trauma. “Unfortunately, the exact mechanism of the condition is not well defined yet,” says Dr. Benyamin.
While not fully understood as to why the pain is so severe, medical science has certainly improved its understanding as to how to deal with that pain due to a better developed idea as to how pain truly works. Whereas amputation of the affected extremity was once the norm; now, the way of dealing with CRPS is, thankfully, far less invasive and is reversible.
As Dr. Benyamin points out, although we perceive pain in a hand, foot, back, etc., the brain is the true processor of pain. Signals are sent from tributary nerve endings through the main river of the spinal cord to the brain. The brain then sends signals back “upriver,” as it were, to the affected nerve endings, resulting in the pain we perceive.
The major problem with CRPS is that the pain signals going from the tributaries are like flash floods that appeared from nowhere. Those signals are far greater than they should be and flow downriver, eventually reaching the ocean that is the brain and overwhelming it.
Just as dams — both natural and manmade — can interfere with the flow of the water anywhere along its normal flow, dams of a sort can be built within the nervous system, interrupting the flow of pain signals from the extremities to the brain.
In the recent past, a technique called spinal cord stimulation was used to create a type of dam for the pain.
“We would place this wire close to the spinal cord in the epidural space,” Dr. Benyamin describes. “The electrical signals generated through this wire would then block or interfere with the pain traffic. Reducing or blocking the traffic means the patient does not get those perceptions in the brain; therefore, the patient does not feel the pain.”
Trying to interrupt or block the flow of water in a great river like the Mississippi can be difficult, however, simply due to its sheer size.
But, what if you could stop the flow of pain before it enters the main river of the spinal cord?
Quite recently, a more effective and efficient place to “build the dam,” so to speak, was discovered: the dorsal root ganglion. Dorsal Root Ganglion Stimulation is quickly becoming the newest method to fight CRPS and stop those inexplicable floods of pain.
To learn more about CRPS and the latest method to combat it, read the third installment in next month’s issue of Healthy Cells Magazine.
For more information on any type of pain, you may contact Millennium Pain Center at 309-662-4321 or www.millenniumpaincenter.com. Their new office is located at 2406 E. Empire in Bloomington. The practice provides the most advanced and comprehensive pain management for a wide variety of conditions. Drs. Benyamin and Vallejo have been selected among 70 of the Best Pain Physicians in America.