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What Is Neuromodulation?

If you’re searching for pain relief, you may have heard of neuromodulation.

What is neuromodulation? It’s a series of techniques that act directly on your nervous system, changing the way your nerves carry information to and from your brain. This new field of treatment basically alters or resets the circuitry of specific nerves.1

For instance, devices are implanted in an affected area of the body. Then the circuitry can be altered similar to how a pacemaker controls abnormal heart rhythms.1

For women with pelvic issues, neuromodulation may be able to help with the underlying complications and symptoms of pelvic pain and urinary or bowel issues.2 Let’s explore what is neuromodulation. 

Understanding Neuromodulation

The International Neuromodulation Society defines therapeutic neuromodulation this way:

“The alteration of nerve activity through targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as electrical stimulation or chemical agents, to specific neurological sites in the body.”3

Here are some examples of neuromodulation:

  1. Spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain management: a very thin wire is placed in the space just outside the spinal cord, delivering frequent, low-voltage electrical impulses to the spine, which changes the pain signals in transit to the brain.3
  2. An intrathecal pump: this device delivers a desired medication directly into the spinal fluid surrounding the spinal cord, providing much smaller doses that can mean fewer side effects, increased patient comfort, and improved quality of life.3
  3. Deep brain stimulation treatment for Parkinson’s disease.3
  4. Spinal cord stimulation for blood flow disorders involving the heart and peripheral vascular disease.3
  5. Nerve stimulation for migraines.3

How Can Neuromodulation Help Pelvic Disorders?

Women with pain and other symptoms of a pelvic condition might be extra curious about neuromodulation. There are several instances that neuromodulation can be used for pelvic treatments:

Pudendal Neuromodulation

The pudendal nerve impacts the bladder, urethra, vagina, rectum, clitoris and the pelvic floor muscles. Dysfunction of this nerve can lead to pelvic and rectal pain, urinary or bowel dysfunction and sexual dysfunction. The pudendal nerve can be damaged by a variety of events, such as childbirth, traumatic injury, or compression like in prolonged bike riding.4

The goal of pudendal neuromodulation is to override abnormal signals coming from the nerve, signaling the brain and improving pelvic pain and bladder and bowel function.  This minimally invasive procedure places a small wire with electrodes at the pudendal nerve in the pelvis. 

It’s believed that neuromodulation works by “correcting” signals being sent through the nerves to the pelvic organs—changing them away from signals that lead to pelvic pain and urinary or bowel issues.4

Sacral Nerve Stimulation

This treatment involves the sacral nerve, which influences the bladder, urinary sphincter, anal sphincter, colon and pelvic floor muscles. Stimulation of this nerve will impact the bladder and rectal muscles, helping those with non-obstructive bladder and fecal incontinence and reducing or eliminating bladder and bowel control problems.5

In this treatment, a device is implanted under the skin that sends mild electrical impulses through an electrode that is positioned close to the sacral nerve in the lower back. Studies have shown that sacral nerve stimulation is over 80 percent effective in treating bladder and bowel control.5

Neuromodulation for Chronic Pelvic Pain 

Chronic primary pelvic pain syndrome, or CPPPS, can be difficult to diagnose and treat. It also has a significant impact on quality of life. Since treating the pain with drugs can be ineffective, or result in negative side effects, the advancement of neuromodulation has shown to be an effective alternative treatment.6

A review of treatments showed that neuromodulation was able to “effectively treat pain and symptoms, thereby enhancing patients’ quality of life, with fewer adverse events.” Researchers concluded that additional research is required, but results seem positive.6

Talk to Your Doctor 

If you’re suffering from a pelvic condition that’s impacting your quality of life—like incontinence or chronic pain—that has not responded to other treatments, ask your doctor about the possibility of neuromodulation. Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health.

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