Avera Medical Minute: Neurostimulator provides relief for chronic back pain

ABERDEEN, S.D. - The neurostimulator helps manage pain in your back. It's been around for about 20 years, but it keeps getting better with technology.

Lou Ann Ingle still had pain after two back surgeries. Then, she met Dr. Shawna Schmidt, an anesthesiologist and pain management physician, at an outreach clinic in Mobridge. Dr. Schmidt is one of only a few pain management doctors in the state. She travels to Mobridge about twice a month to treat patients in the area.

"She was really suffering in her quality of life due to this pain," Dr. Schmidt said.

So she suggested a neurostimulator for Lou Ann.

"Those that have undergone surgery and are still having pain; those that have used medications that are just not effective or that have side effects," Dr. Schmidt said. "This is a safer alternative that can improve quality of life."

"I was skeptical. I didn't think it was going to work for me," Ingle said.

Lou Ann had never heard of it before, so she looked at the research the doctor gave her.

"It convinced me that it was probably something I wanted to try," she said.

So Lou Ann tried the trial for seven days.

"For that seven days, I didn't have any back pain. So I was really excited," Lou Ann said.

"We go in between those bones and put these little tiny leads up that have electrical connections. And once those are in the space, they're able to provide signals to the area and help alleviate those pain signals," Dr. Schmidt said.

Schmidt can't install the stimulator, so Lou Ann traveled to Avera in Sioux Falls for the surgery with Dr. Timothy Metz, another anesthesiologist and pain management physician.

"It's about a two hour operation. It's done under local anesthetic and sedation. They're typically discharged 2 to 3 hours after the procedure," Dr. Metz said.

He suggested Lou Ann and her husband drive back home to Akaska that night.

"The next day, I was really sore from the surgery and I was really, really tired," Ingle said.

But that was the only time she had to travel to Sioux Falls. The rest of her post-op care was done in Aberdeen. She's thankful for that and the stimulator.

"This is a masking or modification or modifying of the patient's pain. Everything that's wrong is still there. We just cut down on the amount of pain," Dr. Metz said.

That's exactly what pain pills would do for her on a daily basis.

"I don't have to take any opioids, and I was taking opioids for my back pain. And my biggest concern was becoming addicted, and I don't have to worry about that any more," Ingle said.

The only thing she has to worry about is charging the pack. The stimulator is automatically set on different speeds depending on what position she's in. It changes whether she's sitting or laying down.

"It almost feels like horses galloping inside of you when you first lay down. Then, it gradually goes down in speed, but once they turned it on, I haven't had any back problems," she said.

She said she would recommend it to everyone.

"This has been an amazing, amazing journey. I have loved every minute of it," Ingle said.

With a team behind her, she's amazed at what technology is doing for her. The battery on the stimulator is good for nine years. After that time, Lou Ann will have to meet with Dr. Schmidt to see if it needs to be replaced or she needs something different to help with the pain.