Health Beat: Spinal cord stimulators: Living pain-free

Health beat

CHICAGO - At least 100 million American adults – more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined – are affected by chronic pain. 

For those who can't find relief with conservative therapies, implanted devices have been proven effective, but make it unsafe to receive MRI scans. That can make it difficult to diagnose future problems. Now, there is a first-of-its-kind FDA-approved device that's changing that.

For years, a simple walk with her dog, Carmen, was just too painful for Susan Hennen.

"On a scale of one to 10, it felt like a 14," said Hennen, who has suffered with back pain for more than two decades. "I was depressed. I didn't want to live a life on oxycodone."

Hennen had considered an implantable spinal cord stimulator, a device similar to a pacemaker that works by interrupting pain signals to the brain. The problem was that the devices were not MRI-safe, until now.

"It is a breakthrough, a significant breakthrough," said Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, professor, pain medicine, anesthesiology at Rush University Medical Center.

Buvanendran said the SureScan MRI neurostimulator has specially designed leads, making it MRI-safe.

It allows doctors to still diagnose the possible patient problems of tomorrow, while taking care of the pain today.

"If you're able to get him or her back to functionality, it's huge," Buvanendran said.

Hennen had the device implanted two weeks ago and is already feeling the difference.

"I'm really glad I did it," she said.

Patients considering the device can do a trial before making it permanent. Patients wear an external neurostimulator around their waist during the week-long screening test to see what kind of relief they can expect for their chronic pain.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran about treating chronic pain

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