Spinal cord stimulator story

Dave - dmiller.loomis@sbcglobal.net

Posted 2007-12-23

After getting so much helpful information from this website over the past several years, I decided it would be good to offer my own story for those who are considering having a spinal cord stimulator implant.

My tailbone began hurting for no particular reason about 4 years ago. For many months I could sit with discomfort that gradually increased. Then, after a trip to India and enduring several hours of extremely bumpy roads on a car trip there, the pain increased and became nearly unbearable. X-rays showed nothing other than what the doctor called "a little arthritis". I was desperate and so my doctor referred me to Dr. David Teicheira at the Sacramento Pain Clinic in Sacramento, California (see Doctors and specialists in the USA). He tried injections at first which only made things worse (if that were possible). He then recommended a spinal cord stimulator. After much research, including a few stories from this site, I ruled out pushing for a coccyxgectomy and decided to try the stimulator. After all, if the stimulator didn't work I could always try the coccyxgectomy later.

Dr. T. (as they call him) implanted a Medtronic stimulator and ran two wires into my spine and down to my coccyx. This is known as a "retrograde" procedure because the wires go down rather than up. It is more difficult for the doctor and Dr. T. had only done this once before for a coccyx, but he got the wires in place after a couple of tries with my help. During the surgery, I was brought just enough out of the anesthesia to let him know when the stimulator was activated where the tingling sensation was. Like I say, it took a couple of tries before we got them perfectly positioned so that the stimulation was in the area where the pain was. While it wasn't pleasant to be awake during the procedure, I did not feel any pain and was put back to sleep as soon as he got the wires in place.

The result has been excellent. I am not pain free and I cannot sit anywhere for more than a few minutes without a coccyx cushion of some sort. However, as long as I bring a cushion with me wherever I go, I can live relatively pain free when the stimulator is on. When I say "pain free", I mean that I am not usually aware of the pain unless I do something to stir it up. Basically, the stimulator has enabled me to go back to my daily life without needing pain killers and that, really, was my goal. I can turn the stimulator off and on at will but usually just leave it on at the same setting during the day. At night, I program it to turn off a few hours after I typically go to sleep to save on batteries. Then, I just turn it on when I wake up. It is rechargeable using a magnetic charger that I strap to my body for a few hours every 6-8 weeks.

The surgery is not pleasant and it does take several days to recover. And, there have been some kinks along the way. About 18 months after the first implant, the stimulation just suddenly stopped. X-Rays showed that the leads had "migrated", as they say, which meant they moved and were no longer stimulating my spinal cord. This was my fault as I had gotten careless and reached over my head with a heavy box (which I had been told never to do). So, back into surgery to get the leads repositioned. Then, after another year or so, the stimulator unit itself stopped working. This meant yet another surgery to get it replaced. The old unit was not rechargeable and the leads had only 4 contact points each. The new unit is rechargeable and the leads have 8 contacts which means that there is a lot more flexibility to program the unit so that the stimulation area is as precise as possible. I've been very happy with the new unit and the quality of pain relief is quite a bit better, so I am glad to have had the replacement.

It has been almost 2 years now with the new unit and it is still working fine. I will need to have it replaced once every 7 years because the rechargeable batteries won't last forever. Obviously, this is a high-tech solution and it is expensive. I didn't have any trouble getting my insurance company to cover it, which was a relief because there was no way I would have been able to afford it.

If anyone has any specific questions, I'd be happy to answer them.


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