Betsy’s pain specialist and his Physician Assistant at the Heilman Center began working on the puzzle of what was causing her SI joint pain. “I thought, ‘I’m going to be so happy here because they believed me about the pain.’ I felt someone was finally listening to me.” Soon into treatment they suggested a spinal cord stimulator, but only when she was ready.
To make matters more complicated, in addition to back pain, Betsy also began to experience hip pain. After a hip arthroscopy, her hip surgeon told her that he’d had to leave some bone exposed because there wasn’t enough labrum (cartilage) left.
Her pain specialist believed it was important to distinguish first between the back and hip pain. He was concerned that spinal fusion surgery would only transfer stress to other spinal vertebrae, leading to failed back surgery syndrome. Meanwhile, Betsy had returned to her hip surgeon who took an X-ray and told her the femoral head, which connects the thigh bone to the hip socket, had collapsed and she would need a total hip replacement. When Betsy told her pain specialist this, he suggested it was time for the stimulator and that it could help with pain from both problems.
Spinal cord stimulation delivers a mild electrical signal to the epidural space around the spinal cord, using thin wires that are inserted next to the spinal cord and enclosed within a small device at the other end. The electrical signal reconfigures the pain signal as it enters the spinal cord, and the brain receives the changed signal instead of a pain signal.
Instead of feeling pain, patients often feel more of a smooth, tingling sensation. Even though Betsy is scheduled for a hip replacement, spinal cord stimulation should help both her back pain and her recovery from hip surgery. Dr. Chatas advised her to have the stimulator surgery first.
Before permanently implanting the leads near Betsy’s spinal cord and the device under her skin, Dr. Chatas inserted leads next to her spinal cord to the middle of her back. The stimulator was attached to the leads outside her body, which she wore in a belt around her waist. During the trial, Betsy was surprised how quickly her pain subsided. “I swear,” she said “he put the vertebra back where it belonged. Whatever he did was magic.”
Because the initial experience was so successful, he recommended inserting a permanent implant that could alter Betsy’s pain signals.
The best part of experiencing pain relief? In addition to gardening, being able to sit through meetings, and driving without pain, Betsy has gone back to wearing stylish shoes. “[I can] wear pumps,” she says, laughing. I can wear the wild, 4” heels that are so cute!” And, Betsy firmly states, the team at the Heilman Center hears you and understands that the cause of pain is not always evident in MRIs or X-rays.