Posted by: Julie Poirier on Jul 12, 2017

Contributed by The Poirier Law Firm


Chronic pain is, unfortunately, an all-too-common reality for employees who are injured in the workplace. While the initial pain from an injury may eventually subside with early treatment, many workplace injuries result in chronic, lasting pain and other unexpected medical conditions.


But what if there was a drug-free, miracle treatment for various types of chronic pain? 


Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign think that it just might be possible.  A study published in Nature Biotechnology on November 9, 2015 chronicles the development and testing of a new wireless technology that may one day be used to fight chronic pain in patients for whom other therapies have failed.


The objective of the new technology is to treat pain in very specific parts of the body by providing an ‘off switch’ to prevent pain signals from ever reaching the brain. This is accomplished by using a wireless implant with microLED lights that activate specific nerve cells and ultimately blunt pain signals.


Implant devices are not new to pain management. What makes the latest technology remarkable, however, is its potential to be inserted into parts of the body that move and bend. Until now, implanted pain-management devices have required a power source and had to be anchored to bone, which severely limited their use.  In contrast, the new devices are smaller, wireless, and flexible, making them effective in parts of the body that were previously inaccessible.


Historically, narcotics have been prescribed as the primary or sole treatment in an overwhelming number of chronic pain cases resulting from workplace injuries.  In recent years, however, growing concerns regarding the overutilization and under-performance of narcotics in workers’ compensation injury cases have been studied and reported.  While the potential dangers of narcotics to treat chronic pain are well-documented, including addiction and other undesirable side effects, the workers’ compensation insurance industry has been slow to accept alternative methods and treatments. 


For example, spinal cord stimulator devices (known as SCS devices), which are battery-powered implants that use low voltage stimulation of the spinal nerves to block feelings of pain, are usually only considered after all other treatments, including physical therapy, drug therapy, and steroid injections are exhausted.  Even then, a study published by iData Research in February 2015 found that less than 10% of the potential patient population is being treated with a SCS device.  As a result, many injured workers are forced to either suffer from continuous pain or use narcotics as their only option due to the lack of available alternative treatments.  Much more work needs to be done in this area before innovative therapies become available to the public or are accepted by the mainstream healthcare industry, but new technology like the wireless implant device may be one small step in the right direction towards making effective alternative pain treatments an accessible reality. 


It is important for anyone who has suffered a workplace injury to seek medical treatment immediately, and those who experience chronic pain after their initial injury should continue to see their doctor to monitor and properly treat their ongoing condition.

It is also vital to have an experienced workers’ compensation attorney in your corner.  In addition to making sure you receive all applicable lost wages, an experienced attorney will work with your doctor and the insurance companies to help you qualify and pay for the newest and best pain treatments available to you. 

To have your blog post featured by WILG please email caitlin@wilg.org.

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