SAN DIEGO – Researchers at University of California San Diego are coming to the rescue of people with terrible pain in one part of their body.
The researchers are using a stimulator that goes directly on the dorsal root ganglion, a bundle of nerves that transmit pain signals to the brain.
Raul Silva had his leg amputated after a motorcycle accident in Mexico.
"I lost my leg years ago, in 2000. Since then, I have phantom pain," Silva said.
His leg is gone, but Silva felt cold, numbness and terrible pain.
He worked to support his family for a while but had to stop. Then, his doctor told him about a new pain control system called dorsal root ganglion stimulation, or DRG.
"The dorsal root ganglion is an offshoot of your spinal cord that correlates to a very specific nerve that's coming from your spinal cord to your specific extremity or portion of your back," said Dr. Krishnan Chakravarthy, assistant clinical professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at UC San Diego Health and VA San Diego Healthcare.
Silva did a seven-day trial with a temporary device, sending electrical pulses to block pain signals to the brain.
"The analogy I give is if you have a six-lane highway or a bunch of cars that are driving, we're effectively setting a roadblock across the highway," Chakravarthy said.
After 17 years of suffering, Silva reported his pain was gone.
"It was amazing, because for instance, in the beginning, I feel like a real amputee person. No pain, no phantom pain, no cramping, nothing like that," Silva said.
Silva became UC San Diego Health's patient No. 1 for the permanent DRG stimulator.
The leads and battery are implanted, and he controls the intensity and location of the stimulation with this Bluetooth device. Silva said the system is giving him his life back.
In a randomized trial, 74 percent of patients reported meaningful pain relief, compared to 53 percent who got standard dorsal column spinal cord stimulation.
The DRG stimulator is FDA approved.
The system costs around $25,000 but can cost as much as $40,000, which can be covered by insurance.