‘It turned my life around’: Spinal cord stimulators help ease chronic pain
A Toronto woman, who has suffered from debilitating pain for 10 years, said a new device installed in her spine has swept all her suffering away.
Nikki McManus, 76, had three crushed lumbar discs, which left part of her spine exposed, and suffers from a history of arthritis.
Before attending the pain clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital, McManus was taking strong medication three to four times a day. The pain killers made her drowsy and that side effect, on top of her pain, meant that she was spending about 16 hours a day in bed.
So when anesthesiologist Dr. Aaron Hong suggested she try a spinal cord stimulator to relieve her pain, she was eager.
“Our pain group felt that if we introduced this type of technology, we’d be able to, as they say, ‘opioid-spare,’” he said.
Hong has been using this device on patients for a couple of years now and said 80 per cent of patients were able to reduce their opioid use, with 47 per cent able to stop using completely.
What’s more, he said, is that 22 per cent of patients have been able to return to work.
“The first day, I couldn’t believe it, zero pain,” McManus said. “It’s turned my life around. I feel enthusiastic, I feel energetic, I’m not depressed.”
Hong uses several brands of spinal cord stimulators, but the one McManus has is made by a U.S. company called StimWave.
Using just local anesthesia, a small needle is inserted into the spinal canal, much like an epidural. A tiny wire then slides into the space through the needle, which is then withdrawn. The wire is able to deliver electronic signals to block the patient’s pain and the patient can increase or decrease the signals as needed.
Unlike other spinal cord stimulators, the StimWave does not require a battery pack to be placed under the skin as it uses an external charger.
Hong said the various devices can last 10-25 years.
The procedure is covered by OHIP, but he added that the equipment is expensive. Only St. Michael’s Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital are currently offering the treatment in the Greater Toronto Area.
Still, he said, the results over the past two years have been so good that he’s hoping the government will fund more of these non-opiate pain treatments.
For McManus, being able to garden for seven hours straight is just the start of the activities she’s hoping to resume.