Your Health: A procedure to relieve back pain

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Published: Sep. 13, 2022 at 5:21 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - An estimated 16 million American adults have chronic backaches, stabbing and pulsing pain that cannot be easily relieved by medication or physical therapy.

In some cases, even surgery does nothing to relieve the pain.

James Moharter, 64, spent 17 years in excruciating pain following a car crash.

“We got hit from behind,” Moharter said. “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.

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

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

“It’s just kind of another tool in your pocket that a patient can use to help decrease their pain,” said Dr. Peter Yi. “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 and it targets the nerves that process pain. The patient controls the strength of the signal with a remote.

“I have a wireless charger that I have to hold against my hip every couple weeks to charge me up a little bit,” Moharter said. “I’m trying to gain back things that I thought I never would do again.”

He said he barely needs any medication at all now.

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.

More: Health stories

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