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Spinal Cord NeuroStimulators for Treatment of Back Pain

Updated on April 26, 2011

Back Pain Can Be Debilitating


The Pain Often Runs Down the Back to the Hip, and Down the Leg

It felt like someone was stabbing me with a sharp knife in my hip.
It felt like someone was stabbing me with a sharp knife in my hip.

When I Thought All Hope Was Gone

After failed back surgeries, massive amounts of narcotic pain medication, chronic back, hip and leg pain more than any one person should endure, there was one last hope, a spinal cord stimulator. Anyone who has chronic pain can tell you, "life as you once knew it", unless you find relief, is over.

On 12/23/1994 (2 days before Xmas) I fell off of a ladder (about 20 ft up). My boot hooked in the ladder twisting my leg and spine when I tried to catch myself. I literally split my tibia down the middle, ripped my knee apart, and ruptured 2 discs in my back, plus other minor injuries. To say that it was a life changing moment, is an understatement.

I spent 4 1/2 months in a wheel chair, several weeks in the hospital (including Xmas and New Years), and after 4 knee surgeries and 3 back surgeries, was sent to a pain management doctor for years. I was on morphine patches, Oxycodone, muscle relaxers, morphine tablets, Nexium for my stomach, Zoloft for depression,and anti-inflammatory meds all at one time. I was basically a walking narcotic pharmacy.

Please realize that I am not a wimp when it comes to pain. I have broken my ribs, arms, fractured my skull, broken my arm again with a cast on (not an easy task), punctured my lung, in a coma for 4 days, have two plates in my left arm that hold the bones together from where I split them both and never shed a tear (up until the doctor started resetting them before meds), etc. My orthopedic surgeon considers me as his retirement plan and threatens the inability to use limbs when I need to slow down. But even throughout all of this I have never been to the point of having to take a handful of medication and wait fifteen minutes to get up and go to the restroom My life of working 80 plus hours a week and taking care of my many farm animals was over.

When they informed me about implanting a morphine pump, I basically told them that wasn't going to happen, and there had to be an alternative. He explained about the trial spinal cord stimulator briefly, but stated my insurance company would probably not pay for it. I asked him to try and went home to wait patiently (not happening) for an answer. I called the insurance company myself and told them they could spend the money for the stimulator once, or the morphine pump which had to be refilled with medication all the time. They ended up getting the point when I explained the difference in $$$$$ (always a good strategy when dealing with insurance companies) and they said ok. I didn't realize they had just said ok to the trial not the permanent one, which was another battle, but it worked..

The Trial Spinal Cord Stimulator

The actual implanting of the trial stimulator took place in the hospital with the leads/electrodes being inserted into my back and then into the spine where they must go through the dura portion of your spinal cord. This (unfortunately for me) has to be done while you are awake so you can tell the doctor when the electrodes are at a point of relieving the pain and you can feel the stimulation, If you watch the first video (extremely short) you will get a better understanding of how this happens. When I say unfortunately for me I am referring to the electrodes having to be penetrated through a large area of scar tissue from my surgeries. This was done in the beginning without any pain medication or anesthesia. That changed after the first two were inserted and I was given something to help me relax.

When I left the hospital I had a large dressing on my back covering the four wires that came around to the front and attached to a control device/transmitter which allowed me to adjust the amount of stimulation and the pulsating effect it generates. It feels like a pulsating tingling feeling running down your lower back and into your legs, which unbelievably relieves the pain This is accomplished by the electrode blocking the signal of pain to the brain and replacing it with the tingling sensation.  When adjusting the level of stimulation or certain position changes of your spine this sensation is very intense and will by all means get your attention quickly.

Although it did not totally relieve the pain and took a little while to get use to, it was at least 60% better than it was without the stimulator, which was heaven for me These results differ in individuals and doctors, but in clinical trials of almost 300 people were found to alleviate the pain at least 50% minimum.

These are pictures of the generators/batteries that are usually implanted in the upper buttock region. Mine was implanted in my stomach due to my love of riding horses and the pressure that could cause. It also shows comparison in size to a quater
These are pictures of the generators/batteries that are usually implanted in the upper buttock region. Mine was implanted in my stomach due to my love of riding horses and the pressure that could cause. It also shows comparison in size to a quater
Here is a picture of the two different types of leads.  I prefer the paddles (my permanent ones) finding the stimulation was increased dramatically and less chance of movement.
Here is a picture of the two different types of leads. I prefer the paddles (my permanent ones) finding the stimulation was increased dramatically and less chance of movement.

Implantion of a Stimulator From a Pain Management Doctor or a Neurosurgeon

When I told the Medtronics (company that manufactures the stimulator) representative that I absolutely wanted a permanent one implanted but did not want the same doctor to do the procedure, it raised a few problems but we worked it out. Most doctors do not want to work with or remove a stimulator implanted by another doctor. I did some research on neurosurgeons and found Dr. Donald Smiths recommendations to be the best which I agreed with more than words can portray after my surgery..

There would be a difference in the hospital stay and the scar but I was fine with that. You see, when a neurosurgeon implants the leads they actually have little paddles that can be placed directly on the nerve, opposed to a straight needle type  lead that is able to move easier. This was definitely beneficial to me due to how active I was (or clumsy) and also lowering the risk of more surgeries especially considering I was prone to developing a lot of scar tissue.. .

The Surgery and Results

I was in the hospital for a total of five days which was a little longer than normal due to some antibiotic treatment for a possible infection, but it was worth every second. Although the scars are a little bigger I wouldn't change a thing.

Probably the most amazing part was having the paddles seemed to make the stimulation stronger and my pain levels dropped by 80%. My body adjusted without the medications to tolerate the lower level of pain I was in. I do take a few Tylenol every now and then, but that's it.

Everyone was a little worried in reference to the withdrawal of my pain medication that I had been on for seven years, since the dosages had increased to such high levels due to my tolerance building up and more scar tissue. Just to give you an idea of the pain I was in, I went to one of the insurance doctors before they would approve the surgery who stated he didn't know how I was walking. This coming from an insurance doctor also helped with the approval.

After the surgery I was like a new person (well a few days after being home). I stopped taking any narcotic pain medication or muscle relaxers cold turkey, which never even bothered me at all, either that or I was to busy to think about it. I truly believe that was a direct result of how phenomenal I felt. I cant begin to tell you the difference in my life, or the appreciation I have for Dr Smith and Tampa General Hospital. To be able to ride horses and build things again was something I had almost given up hope on.

I wrote a letter letting them know thanks to them I had my life back. To be quite honest, there were several times that I doubted seriously if I wanted it to continue the way I was living, it was that bad.

This Picture is of My Stomach/Scar Where The Battery is Located

Will It Work For Everybody and What About the Disadvantages

Will it work as well for others as it did for me? I don't know but when you consider the trials and responses given after the surgery its without any doubt at least worth trying the trial stimulator. .

Oooops, almost forgot the three disadvantages of having a spinal cord stimulator:

1) You can not go through most detection machines at airports and courthouses, and must carry a card stating why.

2) You are not supposed to have MRI's due to the possibility of complications. If you watch the last video it gets into more details. I just let them know they need to do a cat scan opposed to an MRI.

3) The battery has to be replaced every 3 to 5 years, (now up to 10) depending on usage. It is an outpatient procedure where they simply make an incision, disconnect the wires from the old battery replacing it with the new one and that's it. I have been told that there is a new one in the works that does not require surgery to recharge. I am not sure on the particulars of that but will post it once it is completed   I have had mine replaced twice and it was a cake walk.

Have an incredible day and let me know if you have any questions.


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    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      It's a pleasure Charlu.

      Take care


    • Charlu profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      Thanks Eiddwen It has been a life saver for me. I just can't believe they were going to put a morphine pump in before telling me about it. Thanks for stopping by and your wonderful comments and votes Take Care

    • Eiddwen profile image


      7 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting Charlu. I have had two discs removed from my spine and I am left with two more discs that are grouind down plus athritis in the Faccett Joints.(I think that's how you spell it) which join the hipbone to the lower spine.

      This is very well presented and so well researched.

      I vote up all the way.

      Take care


    • Charlu profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Florida

      Hi Simone I hope you never need one either but they are a blessing for the ones that do. Thanks for your comment

      Hey BL Yes they are very amazing devices that a lot of people don't realize are available. Thanks for reading and your comment

      I get to go take care of my horses now and that is a blessing.

    • BL Tween profile image

      BL Tween 

      7 years ago

      Wow! Amazing! Thanks for sharing!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      Whoah- spinal stimulation devices?!!? WHOAH!! Well, this is really nifty! I've learned my new thing of the day! Now I just hope I never need these.


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