Spinal stimulator relieves back pain

WGEM News at Five
Updated: Sep. 20, 2022 at 5:20 PM CDT
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Durham, N.C. (WGEM) --- Nearly 16 million American adults have chronic backaches, stabbing, pulsing pain that cannot be easily relieved by medication or physical therapy. In some cases, even surgery does nothing to relieve the pain. That’s when a tiny implant called a spinal stimulator can give some patients their lives back.

Sixty-four-year-old James Moharter spent 17 years in excruciating pain … “We got hit from behind, sent into some other vehicles, five cars rolled and rolled.”

Three back surgeries provided no relief. He was on pain medication 24 hours a day, including morphine, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

Moharter says, “People would be pinning notes on me because they came to the house and couldn’t wake me up.”

James told his doctors he wanted to find another way to manage the pain. Doctors at Duke suggested this, a spinal stimulator.

Peter Yi, MD, Anesthesiologist at Duke Health explains, “It’s just kind of another tool in your pocket that a patient can use to help decrease their pain.”

The spinal stimulator looks like a pacemaker with two wires attached.

Doctor Yi says, “There are leads that are placed in the epidural space and it’s sending an electrical impulse down into the area of the spinal cord.”

Surgeons implant the device in the lower back or buttocks. The device targets the nerves that process pain. The patient controls the strength of the signal with a remote.

Moharter explains, “I have a wireless charger that I have to hold against my hip every couple weeks to charge me up a little bit.”

Moharter says he barely needs any medication at all now. “Couldn’t do this before. I’m trying to gain back things that I thought I never would do again.”

And for the first time in years, Moharter is going camping.

Before doctors permanently implant the stimulator, patients need to go through a five to seven-day trial with the device. The stimulators can be removed if there is an infection or mechanical problem. While patients can swim with the completely implantable device, doctors recommend patients switch the stimulator off while they are driving.

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