Spinal cord stimulator

With a spinal cord stimulator, basically all neuropathic pains can be treated, as long as they can be assigned to a particular nerve or group of nerves. (Photo: Pixabay.com)

Spinal cord stimulators can help “switch off” acute pains. This stimulator consists of a small battery-generated device, otherwise known as an impulse generator that is implanted in the body and emits weak electrical impulses. It is also equipped with electrodes that send electrical impulses from the generator to the nerves. The electrodes are placed in the area of the spinal cord.

“I am surrounded by four ladies: my wife, both my daughters, and our little rabbit”, says Roland Beck while laughing. However, up until not long ago, smiling was not self-evident for him. Mr. Beck, a business manager, suffered a serious hernia six years ago. “While working on the farm, my father-in-law had an accident and fell under the hay rake. In an incredible feat of strength and with the help of a policeman, we managed to lift the machine weighing about half a ton. This is when the inguinal hernia occurred.” A specialist in Zurich told him that he would have to undergo surgery, but that the pains would remain.

From pillar to post

Roland Beck went from pillar to post, until a physician was able to find out, during an MRI, that a plastic screw still remained from the surgery and was exerting pressure on a nerve. The experts believed the pain would dissipate over time, and tried to help him with analgesics. “Despite everything, I kept working, until I had a pain-related burnout two years ago.” He recalls walking like a 70-year old man plagued with rheumatism. “This could no longer be considered a life”. At the Swiss Paraplegic Center in Nottwil, Switzerland, Roland Beck went to Dr. Tim Reck, a specialist for pain therapy, who advised him the implantation of a spinal cord stimulator. “With such a device, basically all neuropathic pains can be treated, as long as they can be assigned to a particular nerve or group of nerves”, explains Dr. Reck. “In recent years, spinal cord stimulators have undergone various developments, for example in regard to the kinds of stimulation. According to the indication or to the patient, a different model may be more appropriate.”

Various sports such as walking or hiking are made possible again thanks to the spinal cord stimulator. (Pixabay.com)

Liberation after 10 years

Many spine surgeries followed, but the pains in Pia’s leg remained. “At some point, the doctor found out that a screw was pushing on a nerve. So we had to perform yet another surgery.” Again without success.

About ten years after the accident, Dr. Hübner, from the Davos Hospital, suggested the implantation of a spinal cord stimulator. The surgery would be performed by Dr. Karsten Müller, doctor for neurosurgery in Chur, Switzerland. “First they performed a local anaesthesia in order to place the electrodes in the spinal canal. An extension cable was then attached to the electrode cable, which was then conducted through the skin towards the surface. Finally, we performed a test with an external stimulation device to verify its efficacy.” The 10-day test phase concluded very positively, so that we could decide for the implantation of an actual stimulation device. “After the extension cable was removed, the device was connected directly on to the electrodes and programmed with the parameters measured during the test phase. Mrs. Branger was able to go home on the same evening as the surgery was performed”, concludes Dr. Karsten Müller.

Tingles rather than pain

The spinal cord stimulator rapidly proved effective: “It first took a while to get used to it. But after a few days, I had set the device in such a way that I didn’t feel the pain anymore when charging my leg.” Pia’s stimulator is equipped with six programs. “When I turn the device on, I feel some tickling in my leg, which covers up the pain.” For her, the spinal cord stimulator was a real turning point. “I have no more pain. Thanks to the stimulator, I can work on my own again, I can go for walk and even for hikes. I have also just acquired a second dog.” Pia Branger is beaming. “I would never part with that device.”

Text: Medical Tribune public – 05/2017
Translation: MyH – 05/2017