For those dealing with chronic pains, days with “little to no pain” rarely exist. There may be lesser scales of aches and side effects, but for the most part, the injury is a part of everyday life. Despite ongoing treatments, medicines, and changes in lifestyle and activities, the pain prevails. Unfortunate as this may sound, it’s a hard reality for thousands of people. From a simple incident, they are forced to deal with ongoing side effects for the rest of their lives.
Doctors and researchers are always looking for ways to reduce those side effects, but oftentimes their positive results come in the form of a revamped treatment. Even if it’s been around for years, such as spinal stimulators.
Though this treatment option is nothing new, doctors are finding new hope within these spinal stimulator implants.
The implant device, which is extremely small, works by sending controlled electrical signals into the spinal cord. These electrodes are pulsed, and work to reduce or eliminate back pain altogether by affecting the nerves that allow humans to feel pain. With the implant, patients receive surgery, in which the electrodes are very carefully placed onto the spine. Then, after a successful trial period, which generally lasts between five and seven days, the device is given a more permanent attachment within the patient’s back.
Doctors can also select various levels of stimulation, depending on the patient’s pain or injury status. By programming the device, a specific pattern will continue to pulse throughout the day.
There are also different types of devices that can be implanted. Doctors will choose the best one, based on each patient and their medical history.
Despite its positive reviews, the treatment isn’t without its critics – from doctors and patients. Patients in which the stimulator doesn’t work – after all, it’s been around for several years and only a small percentage of chronic sufferers have been able to find relief. Meanwhile, doctors argue that the surgery provides a larger scale of the placebo effect. Rather than taking medicines, patients go under the knife and “trick” themselves into staying pain free.
However, that doesn’t account as to why chronic sufferers would suddenly become pain free, and why this would be the treatment that changed their mind, consciously or not.
And though its numbers are spotty, newer, advanced models may be the cause for new success stories. Because it was first introduced in the 60s, spinal stimulators have been able to grow technically and become far more effective than its original designs.
For one woman, spinal stimulation was the only treatment option to work. After visiting more than 27 specialists and having her arm turn “cold and blue” from back pain, 37-year-old Maria Tricoli heard about spinal stimulation. As part of an experimental treatment, she was implanted with a device (for free) and has been pain free ever since. Just two months into her treatment option, the Virginia resident stated she was able to perform tasks she hadn’t done in years, like take her kids to a playground. She was also able to return to work and take care of herself on a daily basis, which she cited as one of the biggest perks, aside from not dealing with daily pain.
Though there are many sides to the treatment, doctors tend to agree it’s a viable option for those who can’t find a regimen that works.
To find out more about the surgery or to hear from Tricoli, head to her feature on ABC News.