Article by Mandy Squires (Geelong Advertiser)


Four Geelong patients are the first in the southern hemisphere to be treated with a cutting-edge pain management device. Of the four patients to be treated with the promising percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) device at Geelong Private Hospital on Wednesday, two suffered from chronic headaches, one had severe back pain and the other had debilitating nerve pain following surgery.

Geelong pain management specialist and Deakin senior lecturer, Dr Mick Vagg, said all of the patients had pain which had not responded well to other treatments, but had experienced relief after the PENS procedure.

“All of the four we did yesterday went home better than they came in,” Dr Vagg said.

It was hoped the pain relief would last for up to three months, he said.

Administering the PENS treatment involved placing fine leads in, or just under, the skin while the patient was sedated in theatre, Dr Vagg said.

The leads were then hooked up to the PENS device — which delivered electrical stimulation for about 25 minutes — before being removed.

“The patient just goes home with a little Band-Aid,” Dr Vagg said.

The “open label study” (a form of clinical trial) meant the pain management team could identify patients which might benefit from the treatment and offer them the procedure, which was fully covered by private health insurance, he said.

Nerve pain was one of the most distressing and disabling types of pain and was hard to relieve without using drugs with unpleasant side-effects, Dr Vagg said.

One of the side-effects was sedation, which could adversely affect the quality of life of patients, he said.

“For people who have difficult-to-manage nerve pain, particularly following surgery or injury, it’s (PENS therapy) potentially the thing which will help them where other stuff hasn’t been able to. Or it will help them in a way which is more acceptable than their current treatment, with fewer side effects and less inconvenience,” Dr Vagg said.

The PENS device was currently being used in the United Kingdom and Europe but until this week had never been used in the southern hemisphere, Dr Vagg said.



PENS therapy does not destroy the affected nerves but makes them less sensitive to pain.

A low-voltage electrical current is delivered through a specially designed needle to the fatty layer just below the surface of the skin close to the specific nerve, or to the nerve endings situated in the local area.

The stimulation induces a pain-relieving effect by altering the state of the nerves.