An area physician now offers a new option for patients with back pain who haven’t been able to get relief from therapy, medication, or surgery.
At UPMC Altoona Elite Orthopedics, Dr. Charles Harvey says a new version of a spinal cord stimulator will allow younger patients to benefit from a treatment that used to be recommended mainly for older adults. That’s because, unlike earlier devices, it’s MRI compatible.
Dr. Harvey calls that a huge step forward, saying, “in the past we were reluctant to put them in younger patients because most of us, in some point of our lives, is going to need an MRI.” He says, while it’s not risky to implant the devices, it can be tricky to safely remove them.
The neurostimulator emits a mild electrical current that travels through thin wires with electrical leads, to the source of chronic pain. There, it interferes with the nerve impulses that make you feel pain.
“If you walked into a room and there was an air conditioner on, you would notice the air conditioner, but then, if someone would start to talk to you, you’d start to pay attention to the person speaking with you,” Dr. Harvey says. ” In that analogy, the air conditioner is pain and the person speaking to you is this small electrical device, which is giving you a more pleasurable sensation than the pain.”
He estimates that, due to the MRI compatibility, many more patients will now be able to get relief from this type of non-drug therapy.
To see if the therapy will work for them, patients first receive a temporary implant. If they achieve 70 to 80 percent pain relief, they’re eligible for a permanent implant.
The neurostimulator can also be used for severe neck pain and a pain syndrome called RSD.