Health Team

Implant Could Decrease Back Pain

Posted August 30, 2007

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— At least 25 percent of Americans suffer from back pain. For a fourth of them, it's a chronic problem.

Many people with chronic back pain have tried everything to find relief. Surgery doesn't always work, and pain medication has side effects and is often addictive. But there's another remedy that masks the pain without drugs.

More than 15 years ago, crippling back pain struck Stuart Cagle.

“I was in a lot of pain and it was a crusher, really emotionally and everything else,” he said.

He had spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal so that vertebrae begin to pinch nerves. Surgery didn't work. Medication made him feel drugged, though it helped with the pain.

“But the problem with narcotic type drugs, after a while, you become immune to them. And where does it end?” Cagle said.

In 1994, Cagle got an implant in his hip, much like a pacemaker for the heart.

“But the technology is similar. You are providing electrical impulses,” said Rex Neurologist Dr. Shehzad Choudry.

Electrical leads are threaded up along the spinal cord. A remote control turns the spinal cord stimulator on when it's needed, according to Choudry.

The electrical impulses mask the pain signals going to the brain. Most patients describe it as a pleasant tingling sensation. Cagle called it life-saving.

“And I mean that quite literally, that it did save my life. I mean there's no doubt about it,” he said.

Cagle has the latest improvements in the stimulator, with better programming ability and more control over the signal intensity. He returned to enjoying life without the fear of pain.

Batteries in the spinal cord stimulators last an average of five to seven years, but Choudry said the procedure to replace the batteries only involves a same day outpatient visit.


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  • IHave1-2 Sep 1, 2007

    This sounds similar to the (external) TENS device. Is it an internal TENS? Does it 'cure' or is it only masking (like TENS)? Anything besides drugs is great, but only if it works.

  • NCMOMof3 Aug 31, 2007

    I wonder if the VA has this yet

  • hockeymomnp Aug 31, 2007

    Most insurance companies will cover the procedure and it does not work for everyone. It is worth being evaluated by a pain specialist and if he/she deems you an appropriate candidate thier insurance authorization department will check on coverage. The physicians at Carolina Pain Consultants are board certified in pain and do this procedure. Thjey have offices at Rex Hospital and Duke Health Raleigh Hospitals. Good luck!

  • stlrfnatc73 Aug 31, 2007

    What I wonder is "Does insurance pay for this"? Sam62 you have had it done. Did your insurance pay anything for it?

    I would love to have this done. I have lordosis and congenital spondylithosis(sp?) and I hope this would work for me.

  • mrtwinturbo Aug 31, 2007

    I like the drugs better, but then that is all that the military ever did for me, give me a prescription and send me on my way

  • sam62 Aug 30, 2007

    This is great! They should also tell you that it does not work for everyone. I know, I am on my second one, and while this one is much better than the first, without the drugs, I couldn't make it.

  • diwanicki Aug 30, 2007

    Wonder if it works for arthritis of the spine? that would be something if it does.