Outsmarting Chronic Pain

MERIDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — For millions of Americans, back pain is a fact of life. “Back pain itself is one of the largest problems we have in the United States,” said Dean Mariano, D.O., a pain management physician at MidState Medical Center in Meriden, Conn. “Back pain accounts for more problems than sometimes cancer and other disease processes combined.”

Back pain is also something 70-year-old Marthajean Savage is all too familiar with. “As long as I laid in a recliner, I was fine but the minute I stood up and put pressure, I was in terrible pain,” Savage explained.

For years, Savage lived in agony. The pain would start in her leg and radiate up her spine, making even simple things like walking difficult. “When you don’t have the mobility, it beats you down after a while.”

Savage tried cortisone shots, medications and other treatments, but they only offered temporary relief. That’s when Dr. Mariano suggested a little-known solution: a spinal cord stimulator to block the pain.

“If you think about it kind of almost like a pacemaker for a heart,” he explained. “Pacemakers for hearts can send electrical impulses to the nerve bundles of the heart to allow it to beat and function correctly well a spinal cord stimulator works similarly to that.”

In a simple surgical procedure, the spinal cord stimulator is implanted under a patient’s skin close to the spine. It works by delivering mild electrical impulses that travel from the device, up through the wires implanted in the spinal cord.

“What the spinal cord stimulator does is it interrupts that signal track going to the brain and we’re replacing it with a different type of signal, so instead of feeling sharp burning tingling electrical fire, you might feel a massage sensation or a mild tingling sensation that is not painful at all,” Dr. Mariano said. Essentially the device outsmarts pain by blocking pain messages before they can even reach the brain.

For Savage, relief was immediate. “Right away I had no pain whatsoever,” Savage recalled. “I got up and walked out of the hospital.”

“The beautiful part about the device is she has control over it,” Dr. Mariano said. Using a remote control, Savage can make the pulses stronger or weaker, turn the device on or off, and charge it by placing a paddle over the area it’s implanted. For her, the spinal cord stimulator has changed her life.

“I can do things now that I have not been able to do for quite a few years,” she explained. “I can interact with my whole family, with my grandchildren, work in my yard, ride a bike, go for walks, which I could never do before.” And now she can look forward to many more pain-free years to come.

With the device, Dr. Mariano says the right candidate can experience a 50 to 75 percent reduction in pain.
But before someone can have a spinal cord stimulator implanted, they must go through a thorough assessment, including a four to five day trial period to see if the device will work for them. For more information about this treatment and more, log on to MidStateMedical.org.

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