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Sound and electrical stimulation may help relieve chronic pain

Sound and electrical stimulation may offer hope for people suffering from chronic pain and other conditions. Researchers are exploring the combination with the goal of developing treatments that are safer and more accessible than opioid medication. Viv Williams has details of a new study in this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion."

A University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team has found that electrical stimulation of the body combined with sound activates the brain’s somatosensory cortex, increasing the potential for using the technique to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders.
A University of Minnesota Twin Cities-led team has found that electrical stimulation of the body combined with sound activates the brain’s somatosensory cortex, increasing the potential for using the technique to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders.<br/><br/>
SONIC Lab, University of Minnesota<br/><br/>
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ROCHESTER — Can using sound and electrical stimulation help ease chronic pain? Both have been used separately for treatments, such as music therapy and acupuncture. A University of Minnesota-led study shows that when used in combination, sound and electrical stimulation open pathways in the brain that could potentially be used to treat chronic pain and other sensory disorders.

The technique is noninvasive. To test it, the research team played broadband sound while electrically stimulating different parts of the body of guinea pigs. They found that the combination activated the brain’s somatosensory cortex, which is responsible for touch and pain sensations. They say that the pathway could open possibilities for treatment. It's not used in humans yet, but they're starting clinical trials soon.

“Chronic pain is a huge issue for a lot of people, and for most, it's not sufficiently treatable,” says Dr. Cory Gloeckner, the lead author, alumnus of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Biomedical Engineering and an assistant professor at John Carroll University. “Right now, one of the ways that we try to treat pain is opioids, and we all know that doesn't work out well for many people. This, on the other hand, is a noninvasive, simple application. It’s not some expensive medical device that you have to buy in order to treat your pain. It's something that we think would be available to pretty much anyone because of its low cost and simplicity.”

The study is published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

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Opinion by Viv Williams
Viv Williams hosts the NewsMD podcast and column, "Health Fusion." She is an Emmy (and other) award-winning health and medical reporter whose stories have run on TV, digital and newspaper outlets nationwide. Viv is passionate about boosting people's health and happiness by helping them access credible, reliable and research-based health information from top experts. She regularly interviews experts and patients from leading medical institutions, such as Mayo Clinic.
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