Neurosurgeon Erika Petersen, M.D., Awarded for Work to Improve Pain Treatment

By Amy Widner

“Dr. Peterson’s recent achievements in research, education and clinical care made her an overwhelmingly unanimous choice,” said Dawood Sayed, M.D., president of the American Society of Pain and Neuroscience. “We applaud Dr. Peterson for her dedication to clinical excellence and her service to her patients.”

She was recognized at the society’s annual meeting July 26-28 in Miami. The award recognizes clinicians for exceptional achievements in clinical practice, research and advocacy.

“Erika Peterson is a shining example of excellence in medicine,” said Timothy R. Deer, M.D., the society’s chairman. “She represents a unique combination of scientific inquiry, surgical skills, attention to detail and true collaboration with her peers. We are very blessed to have Erika as a colleague and as a mentor of many of those physicians who are up and coming in our field.”

The society formed in 2018 to promote research, innovation and collaboration in the field of pain treatment and management. Its membership includes neurosurgeons, anesthesiologists, neuroscientists, researchers, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists and others.

“Pain — particularly chronic back pain — is one of the largest sources of disability,” Petersen said. “Behind those numbers are doctor visits, missed work and lost productivity, but also suffering, not just for the patient, but also for those around them. If we can enable people to better manage their pain, we hopefully can improve their quality of life, their ability to function, and ultimately, their ability to be positive contributors to their community the way they would like to be.”

Petersen is working to advance pain treatment with clinical, research and educational pursuits.

In the clinic, Petersen treats chronic pain through surgical procedures including occipital nerve stimulation and spinal cord stimulation. She collaborates closely with a comprehensive multidisciplinary team of pain anesthesiologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, physiatrists and other specialists to meet the needs of each patient as an individual.

On the research side, Petersen is the lead investigator on a national study on diabetic foot pain. Other projects look into amputation pain, chronic back pain and leg pain. She is part of a group that works to set recommendations and guidelines for the treatment of a variety of chronic pain conditions, including head and neck pain.

As an associate professor in the Department of Neurosurgery in the College of Medicine at UAMS, Petersen teaches medical students, residents and fellows the latest on pain treatment. Outside of UAMS, Petersen educates the public through speaking engagements, media appearances and social media like Twitter.

“Everyone has heard about the opioid epidemic. What they may not have thought about is what comes next in pain treatment,” Petersen said. “What I do in pain research is look for non-drug therapies like implanted electrical stimulators to change how the nervous system processes chronic pain. Having a good understanding of every possible tool is really important. There’s no single solution to pain relief for every single patient, so the more we understand, the better we will be able to individualize a strategy to get the best results for each patient.”