Doctors Use Spinal Cord Stimulation As Option to Opioids

Doctors are using new technology, as an option to opioids, to provide relief to back pain sufferers.

High frequency spinal cord stimulation uses high frequency pulses, rather than the low frequencies traditionally used, to block pain signals from reaching the brain.

Doctors at Texas Back Institute say it's different than what's been available in the past because high-frequency therapy doesn't emit a form of paresthesia, a tingling feeling in the skin, that often caused discomfort among users.

"They hated the way the stimulation would make them feel. They would feel like a tingling or buzzing and they just couldn't get used to it," says Dr. Scott Kutz, neurosurgeon at Texas Back Institute. "Now we have a way to deliver stimulation that could be sub-threshold, which means that you can't feel it."

The stimulator is implanted during surgery and patient-controlled through a hand held remote.

Kutz says it's now available to a wider variety of patients at a lower cost than in the past.

"We have patients who've had chronic narcotic use for months or years, that with stimulator implanted, when it works, they're able to reduce or eliminate that medicine all together," he said.

In December 2016, Kasey Rhoton injured her back after a fall while playing with her children, underwent surgery then re-injured it months later.

She ultimately had crushed her L3, L4, and L5 and to combat the pain, Rhoton was on a cocktail of medications

"I have known some folks that have ended up in an overdose situation and it's just been really unfortunate and the addiction will take them that route," said Rhoton. "I didn't want to end up in that situation."

On the advice of a friend, she looked into high frequency spinal cord stimulation and while she says it sounded scary, the promise of pain relief without medication was alluring so she underwent surgery to implant the stimulator in November 2017 and says she's been pain free since.

"Most health insurance and Medicare cover this spinal stimulation and despite this, I believe, it is underutilized in general. This is due to a lack of awareness by the general community and also by the medical community," said Kutz.

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