March 9th, 2011
09:11 AM ET

Can a nerve stimulator stop my back pain?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Wednesday, it's Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.

Question asked by Larry of New York

I have had severe, chronic back and sciatic pain for many years. My particular problems cannot be resolved surgically. Nerve blocks and other minimally invasive procedures have been partially successful in temporarily reducing the pain.
Medications have reduced my back pain, but the sciatic pain continues to be severe. My pain specialist has suggested an implantable nerve stimulator for the sciatic nerve. How successful are these devices?

Expert answer

Dear Larry,

I consulted several physiatrists (nerve, muscle, and bone experts who treat injuries or illnesses that affect movement) and neurologists with extensive experience in the treatment of chronic low back pain and pain radiating down the sciatic nerve of the leg in order to answer your question.

They stress that almost all adults have low back pain at some time in their lives and the outcomes are good with the pain going away for most within three months.

Acute low back pain is defined as lasting less than four weeks. Sub-acute low back pain is commonly defined as back pain lasting between four and 12 weeks and chronic low back pain persists for 12 or more weeks.

The health care provider will initially evaluate the patient with low back pain by getting a history of the pain and doing a targeted physical examination. The exam focuses on excluding serious neurologic problems such as malignancy or infection.

Causes of back pain include compression of the bone around nerves as they leave the spine. This is often due to arthritic degeneration and commonly feels like a pain running down the nerve path. Sciatica falls into this class.

Other common causes of chronic low back pain are spinal stenosis, a condition in which the spinal cord is squeezed by the arthritic spinal bones; ankylosing spondylitis, in which the ligaments of the spine are inflamed and the spine is stiff; and fracture of a spinal vertebral bone.

Most patients will end up with nonspecific low back pain of unknown origin. The treatment of all nonspecific low back pain is with non-narcotic pain medications and physical therapy. Most health care providers will not do extensive radiological and neurologic tests on a patient until the pain has persisted for more than four weeks despite treatment.

When symptoms of nonspecific low back pain persist more than three months, the goal of treatment moves from "cure" to controlling pain, maintaining function and preventing disability.

Studies show that many patients with chronic low back pain do not receive evidence-based care.

Too often, there is overuse of unproven interventions (such as traction and corsets), over-reliance on opioids and muscle relaxants and underuse of exercise therapy.

Injection of nerve roots with steroids or numbing medications (nerve blocks) generally provide short-term relief and can be done only when the source of the pain is identifiable.

The experts gave the following recommendations for patients with chronic low back pain.

The patient should try to remain active and limit bed rest.

Engaging in supervised exercise therapy that includes stretching and strengthening is an important part of therapy, as is some aerobic activity

Consider yoga, spinal manipulation, massage therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture.

Do not use lumbar supports.

Use nonopioid analgesics such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Only the most severely disabled, with a low vulnerability for drug abuse, should use opioids. Opioids should then be used sparingly for acute exacerbations of back pain.

Avoid use of anti-epileptic medications, muscle relaxants and benzodiazepines such as valium for long-term low back pain.

A nerve generates an electrical signal. In sensory nerves, these signals may communicate pain to the brain. A nerve stimulator is used to cancel out the electrical pain signals in the nerve. The peripheral nerve stimulator is implanted under the skin and is placed to send electrical pulses to the problematic nerve directly.

A very few patients do get relief with implantable nerve stimulators and other treatments such as interferential therapy, low level laser therapy, short-wave diathermy, traction, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound or percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS).

These treatments are worth a try for people who have not gotten adequate relief from other more established treatments. All the experts I consulted noted that treatment of chronic low back pain is often frustrating and patients going through the experience often develop clinical depression.

They suggested that health care providers and patients be on the lookout for depression and they suggest that it be treated aggressively with antidepressants.

They also said it is important for the patient to continue working with his or her doctor to find a source of relief.

Filed under: Expert Q&A

soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. sdurbin

    I have the Medtronic Neurostimulator and have written about my experience on my webpage: http://www.fulltimerv.us/Medical/Medical.html

    Keep in mind that my injuries may be significantly different but I am glad to have the unit to help deal with the pain. Hope this helps interested readers.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • whirlway

      I have the tens unit as well. It is non-invasive and does help w/my chronic back pain. I also use massage when I can afford it, PT, and legal drugs. Chronic back pain is no laughing matter when you are in pain every single day of your life.

      March 9, 2011 at 10:37 | Report abuse |
    • john campbell jr

      My wife has suffered with chronic back pain brought on by Arachnoiditis ( basically scar-tissue causing the nerves to be forced out of there normal position – inoperable) . She tried an implant with no success, in fact when they went to remove it, she went paralized from the waist down for over 24hours. We are now looking into medical marijuana, still illegal in Ohio, but is legal in Mich. we are looking into finding a Mich. Docter to see if in pill form there is any success in getting any pain relief. She is on opiates, very high does and this really scares me, way too many side effects.

      March 9, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse |
    • jazz

      TENS doesnt work for me anymore..it numbs the pain and dries out the area being treated. Does not work well with dry skin, and neither does those heat rubs..TYlenol causes tinnitus effect and IB 800 doesnt cure problem. Muscles relxers dont relax the muscles.

      ..and this is all medicaid will afford. They wont pay for xrays, MRI etc...and when they do they tell you nothing is wrong...have had issues for past 10 TEN years and NO RELIEF. NONE.....

      But can I at least get disability.....NOPE. I must be faking it because Im (now) 30 and cant work or lift objects, or recently WALK....

      SO WHAT are people like me to do when this starts all of a sudden and DOES NOT GO AWAY but worsens with time?

      Asking me to stay active is the worst recommendation you can give. Telling me im lazy and need to get back to work will get you sued and kicked in the face..

      Will the VA PAY for this sort of treatment, most likely NOT. TRI-CANT is extremely unliikely to either...

      March 9, 2011 at 13:45 | Report abuse |
    • Dr Martin


      March 9, 2011 at 14:09 | Report abuse |
    • Jeri Sum1

      I had the Medtronics stimulator implanted twice (the first time the surgeon put the battery on a horizontal plane and it would not charge) and am now awaiting removal of the unit and spinal paddle. This product did not work for me and has been incredibly aggravating. Despite repeated attempts, the unit could not be programmed to provide any level of relief and generally just caused stimulation to my bladder, resulting in feeling as if I had to urinate constantly. VERY ANNOYING! Unable to use it to any benefit, the battery died and now all must be removed because the hard battery in my hip leaves the area feeling constantly bruised and sore. This was such a waste of time, money and was very painful. I can't wait to have it removed! I had torn lumber disks following an accident and had fusion surgery (posterior/anterior) and accepted the stimulator in an attempt to get off of opiate pain medication. I try to get by with a fentanyl patch and low dose percocet, along with naproxen and lidocaine patches but most days I am on a heating pad in bed all day. All of this has given me terrible depression to the point that I may only leave the house once a week for groceries. There must be help for people in my situation but the stimulator implant wasn't it in my case. Everyone is different and I wish the best of luck on those who try the implant surgery. Be aware that if you undergo a "trial" there is often a false sense of improvement which may be based on wishful thinking or other factors. It's very hard to tell if the unit is actually helping during a trial or if it could be due to the increased pain medication to negate the trial surgery or whatever. I heard tales from the surgeon's assistants that they had older patients who often reported improved stimulation when in fact the techs were not changing or activating the device at the time, unbeknownst to the patient! So, do try to really evaluate the results. In my case, having the stim implant was a little lilke having a leash on all the time in that I had to be sure to keep the controller with me, keep it charged, and had to wear the battery charger (awkward and uncomfortable) often to keep the internal battery charged, especially when needing a high level of stimulation. Best of luck but I'd give anything to have my life back before my accident! Surgery has not helped me and I feel I have no life now. I'm only 50. Thank goodness for insurance as none of these procedures are cheap!

      March 22, 2011 at 22:23 | Report abuse |
    • Jim

      TENS (Transcutaneous Nerve Stimulation) is a cost effective frontline treatment option for patients who suffer from chronic pain. TENS is especially effective for patients who want to return to ADL's (Activities of daily living), work and have a desire to be less dependant on narcotics and opiods. TENS is a very effective treatment option and most insurances cover the low cost. There are only a few effective TENS devices available in todays marketplace and identifying a good quality device combined with thorough education is sometimes difficult. It is imparitive for a TENS rep to provide quality instruction on proper electrode placement, program options, usage time and overall expectations when used appropriately. Also, electrode care is essential. Many times patients aren't given thorough education and results could be other than positive. Things to be concerned about: Worker's Compensation carriers and HMO's like to work with brokers who provide bottom line TENS devices and mail the equipment directly to patients without proper education. This is a direct result of insurance carriers being more concerned with saving/making a few dollars instead of providing quality care. I highly encourage Worker's Compensation patients to fight for their rights to get quality care at every level. TENS is very effective but providers must not perform with half measures. Never buy online devices or broker provide devices. Ask your physician or therapist to have a TENS representative provide you with the education and care you deserve for best results. I have seen people trying to sell in malls, fairs and t.v. infommercials. These are poorly made and and non presciption devices that don't work. A proper device is prescription only. If you have a copayment it will be lower than the cost of the cheap products seen on t.v., online, local fairs/malls. You will also get a quality TENS with proper education.

      May 13, 2012 at 17:50 | Report abuse |
    • Goldenfawn

      I suffer from degenerated disc disease,lower lumber back fusion, nerve damage,the upper part of my back throbs with spams,and burning. my Dr. suggested Medtonic neuro stimutator . Without going into detail I am not pleased.

      September 24, 2014 at 22:28 | Report abuse |
    • Franc

      I have had one installed over a week ago and I am not getting any relief at all . I spoke with the rep about 5-6 times and he says they can program it right at the first follow up , Is this true? The 5 settings i have know do not help at all except vibrate me with no pain relief. Please please please answer me.

      July 1, 2016 at 15:08 | Report abuse |
  2. Peter Michailo

    My wife suffers from chronic lower back pain from what has been diagnosed as arthritic degenerative in nature. She has been treated with steroid injections, nerve block treatment, prolonged opioid and benzodiazepine prescribed use, to no avail. Her pain and quality of life have continued to deteriorate in the nearly 2 years we have been married. She is unable to function and bed ridden most of her day. Most everything your article recommends NOT to do, her doctors are doing in her treatment. Where do we turn?

    March 9, 2011 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jason


      While your wife continues trying to treat and manage her back pain, I would highly recommend that she apply for Social Security disability benefits. I'm an attorney specializing in this area and I've found that many people are not aware that they may be eligible for SSD if they become unable to work for 12 or more consecutive months. In addition to monthly benefits, she would also receive health insurance through the government which may be helpful if she has limited or no coverage. If at some point she is able to return to work, then her benefits can be discontinued. Best of luck to you both.

      March 9, 2011 at 21:35 | Report abuse |
  3. RD

    I have had surgery for sciatic pain due to a ruptured disc, it helped but didn't take away all the pain, so now I have an interferential unit, insurance paid for it, but the companies are willing to work with you on payment/rent of these handheld type devices. For me, it works like a charm!!

    March 9, 2011 at 10:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Chalupa

    Another source of back pain is from the spinal facet joints. Injury to the joint can cause spasm of the back muscles with resultant pain. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) can be very effective if started early. Spinal cord stimulators can be effective but tend to lose effectiveness over time. Spinal opiods may be another option. In my opinion, you should try to get pain control (meds, PT, cognitive therapy) and only seek surgical options if there is muscle weakness or motor problems.

    March 9, 2011 at 10:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Susan Smith

    For 4 years I had a medtronic spinal cord stimulator implant. Following an accidental injury in 1988, between that time and 1991, I had multiple low back surgeries for ruptured, herniated, and re-current herniated discs at multiple levels, plus resulting instability whereby I had plates, screws, and bone grafts put in. After the fusion, I was great for 5 years and then started herniated above and below the levels of fusion. I decided to not have any more surgeries and had the stimulator implant. That implant was magnificent in that it just took that intense edge off the nerve pain. That allowed me to take the time to get in the best shape of my life, and that includes being in shape when I played college volleyball. I used the discipline I learned from playing sports to eat right and exercise as I needed. The endorphines that release when you exercise also help keep the pain away. I had the unit removed, with a vow that I would keep my lifetime commitment to staying in great shape. You may have to push through some pain and the toughness of starting the workouts, but it is so worth it! I live almost completely pain free. If I can do it, you can, too!

    March 9, 2011 at 11:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Chet

    I have had most of the treatments listed above including three back surgeries, one being a three level fusion. I had a Boston Scientific Spinal Cord Stimulator implanted two years ago and it helped for a short time but over time it has helped less and less. I take some non-opiate pain medication and muscle relaxant medications but the pain management specialist said I may have to go to an opiate. If I could do it over again I would never have had the first back surgery. I think if I had known about the implants available I would have opted tried that first.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Linda

    I have had a spinal cord stimulator for three years, and it's given me my life back. I had spinal fusion surgery several years ago, but I didn't get any relief. I, too, had spinal stinosis, and I've had many injections. My pain runs from my lower back and down my left leg. With the stimulator I'm able to function normally and can even exercise. Maybe down the road the stimulator will no longer be effective, but I think that most chronic pain patients would be thrilled with however many years we can have without serious pain.

    March 9, 2011 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Christalee Hoisington

    I have chronic back pain and crushed disks for years due to injuries as an electrician in industrial work. . I have used a tens unit for years and it has always worked very well. It does not take the pain totally away but allows me to tolerate it better. I have tried all the others, injections, pain medications and . I have gone through the full gamete of remedies. Rest and the tens unit when in pain always works the best.

    March 9, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Phyllis

      Christalee, you sound exactly like me. I do strength training. I have great movement but have had chronic pain for a year and a half. Training gave me more energy. My down fall is constant sitting at work. I am very active. Not fair. I guess all the abuse thru the years catches up with your body sooner or later. I was offered implant of tens unit? Not sure?Afraid of side affects. I am tired of being disappointed after having 7 injections with no relief.

      March 3, 2012 at 16:21 | Report abuse |
  9. Kim

    Aneone hear of a morphine pump implant for this problem?

    March 9, 2011 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jrcole

      i had the moraphine pump the trial was grt but when they implanted the unit they messed up somehow and i got an overdose and went into cardic arrest ,it was not worth it because when i made them take it out you have to be so careful w/thesee things it will kill you

      November 6, 2011 at 11:38 | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    I also suffered from lower back pain going down my leg from a very early age. At 25 years old I had a very dificult time, I had to take time of from work for about four months. What worked for me was physiotherapy – intense one hour daily routine supervised by a specialist, for about three months. Also I was on medication and doing magnetic and electrical procedures. But mainly it was the physiotherapy that made the difference. Today I still do some of the exercises I learned back then but not very often, and I am still free of pain. A small comment though. First I tried the common "bending backwards" exercises to releive the presure on my lombar discs. It didn't work. But switching to "bending forwards", combined with other core strenghtening exercises, I soon felt an improvement.

    March 9, 2011 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Phyllis

      Bill I do strength straining too. You have given me hope. I know it is making me stronger but pain is still there?

      March 3, 2012 at 16:23 | Report abuse |
  11. Jeanne Salmon

    I have had the Medtronic Neurostimulator for 6 years and love it. It got me out of the chair that I sat in for years and into an active lifestyle. A trial to determine if it will help is done before it is implanted. I am not completely pain free but I can do anything that I want and then some. For severe chronic low back pain it is worth discussing with your doc and having a trial to see if it works for you.

    March 9, 2011 at 14:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Dale

    I have the St. Jude Neurostimulator implanted 2 years ago, it works very well, and has made it so I can function without any supplemental pain medication. I was previously on Dilaudid and Methadone, which may work for a short time, but the side effects of addiction, requirement for stronger dosage to achieve the pain relief, make the neurostimulator my best option. As a former nurse, I would never recommend that a person with back pain allow a chiropractor to manipulate your spine, that is unless you want more problems than you had in the first place.

    March 9, 2011 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Minos

      @ Nurse Dale, I too suffer from chronic back pain and have had bad experiences with poor doctors, nurses, and chiropractors - not all are created equal! But it was a chiropractor who recommended spinal decompression and Active Release Technique therapies that saved my quality of life and sanity when the traditional doctors had nothing left to offer to help me. Anybody who has had their back or neck out and had a manipulation that INSTANTLY relieved the pain will tell you that, depending on the situation, there's nothing that compares to a good adjustment. In my case (L4 / L5 herniated disks) the decompression therapy was and remains the most effective treatment for my lower back pain. It doesn't cure my underlying problems, but it relieves just enough pressure on my nerves to make a world of difference.

      March 9, 2011 at 17:08 | Report abuse |
  13. nanahearn

    My husband has suffered from low back pain caused by seven damaged discs, from accidents that occurred in his 22 years of military service, and aggravated by degenerative arthritis for many years now. While I agree with much of what this article has to say, it does show the typical lack of insight and compassion into just how bad the pain can be for sufferers of low back pain. My husband does everything he is supposed to do, and still suffers from major pain. When he sleeps he moans all night. The only thing that has ever truly helped are opiates, and he has tried most everything. Thank god we finally found a doctor that realizes that possible addiction is perhaps NOT the worst thing that can happen to a person in chronic pain. My husband, the doctor says, may or may not be addicted, but as long as there is significant benefit to the patient, that benefit outweighs the risk. My husband sticks to the prescription dosages and the opiates relieve a lot of the pain. Not completely, I admit. But, I've seen him go without them and the difference is between a man that can't bear to get out of bed to go the bathroom without pain tears running down his cheeks, and one that manages to exercise and even do some light gardening and hiking.

    Is he addicted? Maybe. I doubt it though, I've seen him go without his medication on more than one occasion for several weeks when we could not afford the doctor visits and though he is in great pain, the only thing he seems to miss about the drugs is the relief he gets from them.

    I'm very tired of holier-than-thou doctors deciding it is better for us to be in pain than face the possibility of addiction. It's stupid. Just stupid. Doctors will fill you full of lethal chemicals to kill all number of diseases, including cancer, but oh, heaven forbid, the patient should develop a need for them. Refusing to use pain killing opiates and muscle relaxers is a political, not medical, decision and doctors like this make me run for the door. Treat your patient's pain, improve his quality of life. To do otherwise is the easy way out and it is inhumanly cruel. Let it be the patient's responsibility not to misuse the medication. We are tired of being treated like children who cannot control ourselves around dangerous materials.

    As far as some of the fancy treatments discussed in this article, I'm sure my husband would be would be happy to try them. If we could afford them. For awhile, he received shots directly in the spine, that had to be inserted during a surgical procedure, and he would be nearly pain free for a few short weeks. It was wonderful. It was also a thousand dollars per procedure out of pocket, after military insurance paid their pittance. We had to give it up and ten years later, we are still trying to pay off the bill.

    The other procedures might work as well, but many of us simply cannot afford them and our insurance, read the insurance we provide our veterans with, will not pay for them. Wonder what happens with people who have no insurance? I know. They go out on the street corner and buy a bottle of oxycontin. Not because they are bad people, because they have no other options.

    March 9, 2011 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • would you be willing to give me the name of the doctor . I suffer so much and cannot find someone tohelp me.

      I have had 7 back surgeries and I am in so much pain, my lower back and my leg and foot , its horrible. please if that doctor is near it would be great.
      thank you

      November 5, 2011 at 00:22 | Report abuse |
    • jrcole

      i think that it is a shame after ur husbands service to his country that we can not provide our military the best insurance just like our senators and presidents get for their whole lives.i had my 1st surgery 2000 4 more since i live on pain patches and high doses of meds.nothing helps i am 50 and am in constant severe pain,i had the moraphine pump and it almost killed me.i do not know the answer other than drs and society need to take real people who have pain as real it is unbearable,i would do anything to go bk and know what i do now i would have found a better surgeon and not had surgery.

      November 6, 2011 at 11:46 | Report abuse |
  14. dave

    If it hurts, get it treated asap. Something as simple as a weakened stomach muscle can cause back pain. If you go to a doctor,make sure that you do your research first and know what kind of doctor you are going to. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and be very specific about what causes pain and the type of pain you are having. Try not to be tempted by quick fixes. Quick fixes are usually in the form of masking medications which can cause more problems by allowing you to damage the tissues and build up scar tissue over time. Its not a contest to see who can suffer the most pain.

    March 9, 2011 at 15:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Carl R. Noback, M.D.

    A properly researched response would have required consultation with experts in the field- interventional pain management physicians, neurosurgeons, and orthopedic surgeons. Neurologists as a group have no experience with the use of implanted neurostimulators. The characterization that " a very few patients get relief" with implanted nerve stimulators flies in the face of available research and literature. The FDA approved implanted nerve stimulators in 1976– this is not new technology. I have been using them since shortly after that time and find personally, consistent with published research, that 85-90% of patients who undergo nerve stimulator trials go on to a permanent implant. Virtually all of these patients have initial success. Over time, the success rate wanes to 40-60% depending on the reason for implant. Considering that these are patients who had a zero percent success rate with other techniques, the success rate is rather remarkable. "Very few" indeed. Dr. Brawley should have deferred to someone qualified to have an opinion.

    March 9, 2011 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John

      Dr. NoBack I agree with you completely. I have gone down the path you describe. My family doc to a neurologist to an orthopedic surgeon to a Pain Specialist. I now have a Boston Scientific stimulator that along with pain medication allows me to at least walk for short periods. I can also continue to work even with the large amount of narcotics I am taking because, just as your body gets used to them so does your mind. I believe in the stimulator I have and am VERY happy I was able to get it.

      March 9, 2011 at 16:30 | Report abuse |
    • Alan Dean Foster

      Thank you for your response, Dr. Noback. I wondered why a cancer specialist was being utilized to comment on back pain.

      March 9, 2011 at 19:27 | Report abuse |
    • Neel Mehta, MD

      Dr. Noback, it seems this topic is getting press, especially in the recent TIME magazine article. I am for one glad it is, but I do agree with you, a more properly and thorougly researched article would have been more appropriate than this one.

      For many patients, spinal cord stimulation is a device that allows return of function and "quality of life". Along with Intrathecal pain pumps, it is not the first solution to back pain, but for many it is the final step before giving up. While some patients benefit more than others, the important point to make would be that many of these devices are first "trialed" in a patient, to see if he/she would benefit in the first place. If the patient does not have a satisfactory response, the patient does NOT proceed to permanent implant, and the trial is removed without permanent consequence!

      I cannot stress enough to patients to speak to a qualified, Board Certified Pain Specialist before jumping into any decisions and to not delay/ignore painful conditions!

      Neel Mehta, MD
      Weill-Cornell Pain Medicine

      March 9, 2011 at 20:05 | Report abuse |
    • RoseF

      Dr. Noback:

      I have suffered with low back pain and neuropathy in my feet for 4-1/2 years. I am now 56 years old. It all started when I tripped over a dog. I have had numerous treatments, such as steriod injections, radiofrequency neurotomy, massage theraphy, etc. I am now on a high dose of oxycodone and gabapentin every day to control the pain. I just completed a "trial" of the Medtronic neurostimulator. The trial leaves wondering whether of not this treatment option is best for me. It worked very well on my neuropathy in my feet, but not so well on my back pain. The Medtronic reps had trouble targeting that area. Also, that stimulation feeling is very strange. I'm just wondering if you get used to that feeling. Do you eventually become accustom to it? I had to turn the unit up quite high in order to get enough relief from the stimulation.

      As everyone knows that has chronic pain, you are always on the persuit of that one treatment option that will take away the pain. You're always questioning whether of not the treatment is best for you and something that you want to do. You'll do it if it takes away your pain. The only problem is, you won't know until you try it.


      June 27, 2011 at 18:31 | Report abuse |
  16. dude415

    I have suffered from lower back pain for over 14 months. My traditional MD gave me pain killers and muscle relaxers, which do nothing long term. He said it was due to strees, which it wasn't/

    Afte rtrying a chiropractor, massage therapy, yoga, physical therapy, spinal conditioning, the only thing that has consistently reduced pain is acupuncture. Not only has it reduced my pain dramactially, it has helped with insonmia and my asthma. I have had about 16 sessions and the results are amazing. The sessions are incredibly relaxing and peaceful.

    Pills and external devices are only temporary solutions.

    March 9, 2011 at 16:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Deb

    Be sure that your clinic and physician will be available in the future if you get a nerve stimulator implanted. If you have problems down the road a most physicians will not treat a patient with the implant unless THEY put it in.

    March 9, 2011 at 18:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Gabor47

    I don't know whether the nerve stimulator helps back pain, but I know one thing for sure. I have chronic back pain, ten years ago I even had lumbar laminectomy. It worked very well (the surgery), but over the years I started to have backpain. Not really bad, but kind of annoying. Watching TV once I remarked in front of my wife:"I wonder whether this thing works" while watching that commercial with that old guy laying on a board like contraption and turning himself upside down. Some "teeter", I don't even remember the name. My wife ordered one (without even asking me). It came. It is absolutely fantastic. Whenever I feel the pain, I just turn myself upside down, I don't even do any of the recommended exercises, I feel some "crack" in my back and pain is gone. It takes less that 30 seconds. I use it a couple of times a day, but since I am using it backpain is no longer a problem. It may (probably) doesn't work for all kinds of backpain, but it sure does of the kind I had.

    March 9, 2011 at 19:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. francis1

    I have had chronic lower back pain for years until I went to a chiropractor and then I bought an inversion table which solved my problem almost immediately. My L4 and L5 discs were compressed and my sciatic nerve going down my right leg was very painful. If you use an inversion table on a regular basis, you will find that your pain will lessen no matter what is causing the pain. It sure works for me.

    March 10, 2011 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Pam

    Arthritis is eating up my lower back, causing the vertebrae to turn to the left. I went to a back specialist that I have gone to before, and he gave me muscle relaxers and ordered physical therapy. Unfortunately, the exercises from the physical therapists are making the pain worse instead of better. I asked the therapists were they going to try and get those discs turned back in the right direction, and they said that they were just going to concentrate on helping me function. In other words, no, they were not. The sessions have also included the electrical stimulation, the TENS machine, and recently ultrasound. They are going to recommend to my doctor that I be prescribed a TENS machine for home use, since it does seem to help.
    A car accident in 2000 brought up osteoarthritis or caused it, and have hurt everyday in some area since. The arthritis is in my back, neck, knees, hands, and at times it feels like in parts of my feet and shoulders. Ultracet is the only thing that helps me with three things: osteoarthritis(cannot take anti-inflammatories due to side effects), fibromyalgia, and to keep chiari malformation headaches away. Sometimes daily meds, and something like TENS, are all that some of us have to be able to keep working.

    March 10, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Steve Walicky DC

    As a Chiropractor, I would suggest an evaluation from a reputable chiropractor. Xrays, to look at the overall conditon of the spine (misalignment, scoliosis and or degeneration of spinal structure can effect the outcome) But spinal subluxation can cause the same symptoms. TENS and implantalbe devices are electronic asprins. Patients need to corect the cause of the problem or the symptoms will continue .

    March 10, 2011 at 11:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      An "ethical chiropractor" is an oxymoron.

      March 10, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
    • jon galt

      Your entire profession is contrary to the very definition of the word. You are beneath lawyers and will enjoy eternal damnation for the scams you foist on gullible and naive people who suffer.

      July 29, 2011 at 14:02 | Report abuse |
  22. Chris

    After my wife had two spinal fusions at C4-C6 she tried just about everything to alleviate the constant pain she was in. Then one of her doctors suggested an implanted nerve stimulator. She did a two week trial where they inserted a small wire into her spine and had a stimulator outside her body and the results were great so she decided to go forward with the implant.

    The doctors had a difficult time implanting the larger electrodes into her spine due to scar tissue from her fusions, and when she woke up she had lost feeling in her hands and had numbness in her feet and legs. Also there was a constant "buzzing" even with the stimulator turned off and drove her crazy. Two weeks later they removed the implant as the numbness began to progress further up her body. Now, three years later she still doesn't have complete feeling in her hands (some of it came back) and still has some numbness in her legs.

    If anyone is considering one of these devices, just be sure you don't have any other options as the spinal cord is delicate, and doctors are not perfect. I would hate to hear of anyone else having permanent nerve damage like she did.

    March 10, 2011 at 11:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Linda B

      Does your wife still suffer from the buzzing? My boyfriend had the trial several months ago and is still going crazy from the sometimes deafening buzzing! Also wondering if anyone else is having this side effect?

      October 13, 2011 at 18:49 | Report abuse |
  23. ashanaha

    CURED FROM CHRONIC BACK PAIN. I suffered from chronic neck pain and low back pain for over 6 years following a mild snowboarding whiplash that caused a mild compression fracture at C2. I tried everything as well – chiropractics, accupuncture, various types of massage, yoga, physical therapy, valium, muscle relaxers etc. All helped to varying degrees but ultimately never had longterm lasting power. I was told by a doctor to just take muscle relaxers for the rest of my life. I also had several other types of pain and I likely fell into the category of fibromyaligia, although never officially diagnosed. I was constantly in pain in my neck, low back or somewhere else in my body. I felf as if my nerves were over firing all the time. Eventually I became so depressed, that I finally went on antidepressants, Lexapro specifically. Within 2 weeks, 90% of my pain disapearred and I was free for the first time in 6 years. It was amazing. I feared the day I would have to go off anti depressants, but the good news is after 1 year of antidepressants, I am off them and have not had my chronic pain return for 4 yeras now. It is as if the "reset" button was pushed on my nerves and I feel cured. Everyone's story and treatment is different but I wanted to share mine because i think there are others out there who may also benefit from antidepressants. There is a known connection between serotonin/dopamine etc and back pain, so you do not need to necessarily be depressed to get the benefits from anti-depressants.

    March 10, 2011 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ashanaha

      Just to clarify since I know many people on this board are suffering from severe pain.... my pain was severe. I would spend weeks in acute pain, unable to get out of bed, walk, or perform regular daily activities (i was only 30 yo at the time). These acute periods would happen every 2-3 months and the times between the acute periods were hardly pain free. I had chronic pain and very limited mobility in my neck at all times. It was like I was stuck in a cage. I also used a TENS unit... almost forgot about that since I tried so many different things. Anyway, best of luck to everyone in finding what works for them. Finding good doctors and therapists and doing your own research and following your instincts are the most important things to finding relief.

      March 10, 2011 at 12:31 | Report abuse |
  24. Larry

    I am the person who posted the question to Dr. Brawley. Thanks to everyone who responded! Like Dr. Noback's comments, I was surprised by Dr. Brawley's and associates' comments that "a VERY FEW patients do get relief" from implanted nerve stimulators and certain other treatments. I was also surprised that much of the reply was generically addressed to patients who have chronic low back pain, given that I asked about sciatic pain. Over the course of 20+ years, I have tried almost every treatment that was suggested in his reply (and some that were not mentioned), other than PENS and low level laser therapy. I have also tried chiropractics and several types of acupuncture. About the only treatments that I have not tried are the implantable nerve stimulator and an intrathecal medication delivery system. Of course everyone's source of pain is unique, so no one treatment will be successful for all patients. I agree with Dr. Mehta's suggestion that people seek out certified pain specialists. Other specialists (e.g. neurologists) may have strong biases against certain treatments. This is unfair to patients. At this point I make due with medications and occasional nerve blocks. I will probably have a trial for a nerve stimulator in a few months. For others with severe, chronic pain: do not give up!

    March 10, 2011 at 13:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Dr. N

    As a busy and successful interventional pain specialist, I see a lot of back and neck pain, some acute, some chronic. I have seen numerous patients that fall through the cracks in our health care system. Many patients' treatments are often delayed because of improper referrals or improper treatment. I don't think there is enough education in the medical community as well as in the general public in regards to the minimally invasive treatments that exist. Many of the ailments described in the aforementioned could easily be treated by some of the methods I use in my practice daily with great success. I have come to the conclusion that interventionalists, like myself, should be the 'gate keepers' in the realm of pain. Patients should come to us with their pain issues and we should be the ones to direct their appropriate course of treatment. Surgeons typically want to 'cut', physical therapists want to improve range of motion and chiropractors typically want to manipulate. All these treatments are useful when it's appropriate. An interventionalist has the tools and knowledge to guide the patient in the best treatment that is the most efficient and offers the best results. I have seen too many patients get passed along and are in pain for months before coming to see me, not to mention waste valuable health care dollars and resources. This has to end.

    March 10, 2011 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. kmh

    test, delete

    March 11, 2011 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Kati Dimitri

    I have a sharp pain in back . My doctor said this is the muscles. I tried so many cream but didn't work. I dont know what to do can you help me please. I am 70 years old i have deibitic high blood brusher .
    Thank you for your advice.

    March 11, 2011 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. justine

    stop chronic back/shoulder/muscle pains!!!

    i recently went to a specialist that does non-surgical treatments for body pains. i swear by it! i was debating on getting full blown back surgery, and glad i didnt! this is much less invasive, much cheaper, safer route to take. if you suffer from back pains, carpal tunne, fractures. herniated disks, arthritis, cancer pains, or just go to the gym a little too much like i did, then i definity recomend this procedure! This doctor in particular offers over a dozen methods and options to choose from. so glad i did it! His office is in NJ, central area. Anyone interested,shoot me an email.


    March 15, 2011 at 10:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Christine

    I have 3 ruptured discs in my back (2 lower and 1 upper)...just the lower bother me most of the time. Getting a good nights rest is a thing of the past. This is what I get for playing sports hard for a good portion of my life, plus, being a runner for 20+ years. I want to avoid any kind of surgery, don't want to get hooked on pain meds......etc. I do have a tens unit...Was wondering if that would help...?? I take nothing for the pain. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain...but, at times it can be maddening...I live in a small town, so, I am not sure what kind of treatment I would get. Anyone have any suggestions that could help? Thanks ahead....

    March 16, 2011 at 13:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. MISS K



    March 22, 2011 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Cheryl

    In 2007 I had a neuro stimulator implanted in my lower back to help relieve severe sciatica in my lower back down my leg. The pain was so severe that I had no quality of life. Nothing helped. Morphine for over 2 years- 200mg patch helped somewhat. I had the ANS implanted and immediately got relief. I now can drive, work, and I go to the gym almost daily.
    It saved my life.
    I had my surgery at University of Pennsylvania Neuroscience, Dr John Lee or Dr Maholtra.
    Good luck!

    October 13, 2011 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Randy Huggins

    I feel for everyone who suffers with pain. That being said, my partner and his mother see a “Dr.” once a month. The whole visit takes 15 to 20 minutes depending if a urine test is given. They pay the $200 and walk out with a prescription for the oxy’s. Both have been in car wreaks and have had numerous surgeries. They both run out before the 28 days, usually within the first 10 days. I am at my wits end, they are in pain but crush and snort to get the immediate high and then take the pills orally to keep the high. I wish the “Dr.” would monitor them better or only give them a day or 2 at a times worth.
    I think they need rehabilitation but neither will go. Anyone have any information for me?

    Randy Huggins

    October 19, 2011 at 08:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Johannes Klupfel

    These acute periods would happen every 2-3 months and the times between the acute periods were hardly pain free. I had chronic pain and very limited mobility in my neck at all times. It was like I was stuck in a cage. I also used a TENS unit... almost forgot about that since I tried so many different things. Anyway, best of luck to everyone in finding what works for them. Finding good doctors and therapists and doing your own research and following your instincts are the most important things to finding relief.

    November 12, 2011 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Johannes Klupfel

    It can also be defined as a degenerative disorder in which the vertebral bone or the intervertebral disc becomes soft and loses shape. As a result the spine loses its flexibility causing acute pain in the back. Women are very vulnerable to back pain during pregnancy.i really appreciate your information, and utilize it regularly as a reference when researching or answering others' questions. thank you very much for your invaluable information.

    November 12, 2011 at 13:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Steve35

    a nerve stimulator's success depends largely on your individual back pain problem and also your doctor's approval. Whatever you choose, do remember to indulge in a regular and appropriate workout regimen that will help provide you with the most comprehensive cure for your back pain.

    December 12, 2011 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. chuck

    thanks for any help.

    December 24, 2011 at 23:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. back disc symptoms

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    January 19, 2012 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Short-termback lumbar pain may also be caused by maladies that affect the spine, such as arthritis, sports injury, working around the house or in the garden, or a sudden shock that adds stress to the spinal bones and tissues. One example of the latter is when you receive trauma to your lower back due to a autor accident.

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  39. holly

    It worked for me i tried many new Exercise such as Yoga or Relaxation Methods.

    March 7, 2012 at 20:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Tammy

    I was in a headon collison with a 18 wheeler in 2001. In 2004 I had lower back sugery. L5S1 fusion. I have been on a lot of strong meds all these years. I'm on Advinza, Oxycodone, somas & Ambein's right now. I really want off the meds. Well a week before it was time to see my doc for my meds. I got a call from them saying he was under Investigation & can no longer hand out meds. So after a few days of no meds in my body. The pain was so extremely bad in my lower back. rear , down both legs & feet. I screamed, cried, no sleep, non stop sweating/freezing for days. Couldn't take it any longer and went to the ER & was told they don't give narcotic shots & gave me a Tardol shot? Which did not help at all. Well I was able to get in a couple days later to see a new Doc about my pain. He did give me meds, but wants me to try the Medtronic Stimulator? I am really scared!!!!!! I don't know if I should try it & IF I Do. Will I go through Med withdrawls after all these years of being on them? This is my first time to reach out and ask someone. I am really scared and don't know what to do.

    March 8, 2012 at 16:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. cewalck99

    Interesting article and one which should be more widely known about in my view. Your level of detail is good and the clarity of writing is excellent. I have bookmarked it for you so that others will be able to see what you have to say google, learned a lot, now i’mwow, awesome post,
    Carl Balog

    March 19, 2012 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. JT

    I have the internal stimulator for chronic back pain. It works very well for me except that I have constant pain at the site of the battery. I have had a second surgery to adjust it but it's been over a year now and I have daily pain in that area. I'm going to go back but i'm not sure if I want them to adjust it again or just have it removed. While it does help with my back and Sciatica pain, i'm rather tired of the painful pulling sensation of the battery. :/

    March 20, 2012 at 19:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Sumonasong

    I'm a pain specialist operating out of Portland, Oregon.I'm no stranger to travel, however, maintaining an office in Salem and making visits to.Carl Balog MD

    April 11, 2012 at 07:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Sumonasong

    Dr. Carl Balog MD / Oregon Pain Associates.Dr. Carl Balog

    April 13, 2012 at 07:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Sumonasong

    Dr. Carl Balog MD / Oregon Dr. Carl BalogPain Associates

    April 13, 2012 at 07:13 | Report abuse | Reply
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  49. tjblueeyes

    I just finished using the "trial" neurostimulator for a week and it didn't help me at all. I have fibromyalgia, but hurt mostly in lower back down legs to my feet. The vibration feeling didn't bother me, but I could still feel the pain through the vibration unless I turned it up way too high. I had it on low while I slept and the next morning I hurt twice as bad–the pain was excruciating! I'm still having trouble with my left leg which I think was CAUSED from the stimulator after having it removed5 days ago.

    April 30, 2012 at 01:47 | Report abuse | Reply
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