YOUR HEALTH: Stimulate your spine to reduce chronic back pain

ST LOUIS – We'll all experience back pain at some point in our lives.

But for those with serious, chronic pain, finding relief can be a challenge.

A new implantable device is bringing quick relief to patients who have exhausted other options.

People like 77 year old Deanna Conley who found that a lifetime of back pain made any activity she enjoyed nearly impossible.

"I was 39 when I had my first back surgery," she said.  "I've had three since then, and two in my neck."

Despite the surgeries, nothing would relieve the pain and pressure.

"It would get worse and worse and worse and worse until you couldn't stand. You would have to sit down."

The Director of Acute Pain Services at Washington University in St. Louis, Doctor Michael Bottros, recommended a new spinal cord stimulator, a tiny device that delivers electrical pulses to nerves interrupting pain signals.

Doctors place the leads in the spine with a small needle.

"With an implant, we'll go ahead and anchor those leads in the area that we want them to be in, and then we'll make another small incision for the battery," explained Dr. Bottros.

Deanna charges the battery at home.

By placing the charger pad against her back, the stimulator batteries refresh in about 30 minutes.  A remote control allows her to adjust the stimulation, if needed.

"I haven't used that walker since the day I got this," said Deanna.

"When you're in pain all the time, it's debilitating," said Deanna's daughter, Sherri Schutte.

"We have our mom back.   It's amazing."

While spinal cord simulators have been used to relieve chronic pain for decades, several new versions have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the past 18 months.

The newly approved versions no longer create a tingling or burning sensation for the patient.

TREATMENTS: The treatments for back pain will vary depending on the severity of the pain and the overall health and age of the patient. If the pain is mild or moderate, it will most likely heal by itself. Most of the time, medications like acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen are used  to reduce moderate back pain. When the pain is chronic, the treatments usually recommended by a doctor are:

  • Behavioral changes (changing how you exercise, relax and sleep)
  • Exercise (recommended by the doctor or physical therapist)
  • Medications (like acetaminophen or aspirins, creams, NSAIDs drugs, muscle relaxants or antidepressants)
  • Injections (of steroids or numbing shots)
  • Alternative medical treatments (for example, acupuncture, acupressure or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
  • Surgery

(Source: https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Back_Pain/back_pain_ff.asp)

If this story has impacted your life or someone you know, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.