“I tingle all day,” Senita Summe said, adding, “I leave it on 24/7.”
Since 2010 she had been having severe back pain; it radiated all the way into her legs and feet. Summe has arthritis and degenerative discs in her back. She tried everything from a pain patch to Percocet, but nothing helped. It took her six months to decide to have the surgery, but now she is glad she did it.
“There were days I couldn't go to work,” she said.
She works in the garden center at Lowe's in Warsaw, which means a lot of bending and lifting. Her husband, Mitch, is a maintenance worker for Indiana Department of Transportation, and over the years he has done a lot of lifting and hurt his back. His job means he has to drive a lot, which was becoming a problem with the pain medication he had to take. Three years ago he had a spinal fusion that made things even worse. The pain was twice as bad, he said.
“I would come home from work and just lay on the floor on an air mattress, Mitch Summe said. "I was going to have to go on disability. I had to take 10 pain killers a day, and I was at the point where I was very depressed and was considering, very bad things. This has really saved my life.”
Mitch Summe was able to go back to work within a week of his surgery and now does activities he couldn't do in years, like golfing. It doesn't take all the pain away, he said, but he no longer has to take narcotic pain medication.
Dr. Daniel Roth of Summit Pain Management said, “The device looks a lot like a heart catheter, but instead of putting it in a vein, I am putting a lead in the epidural space above the spine.”
The device provides a tingling, warm, fuzzy feeling, Senita Summe said.
The technology for the device has been around for awhile but the more recent models are more precise in targeting the right nerves. Roth said the practice has done about 300 to 350 spinal cord stimulators in the past five years. The latest model they have been using, the Precision Spectra SCS System, can specifically identify the area of the pain, sensing the depth of the spinal fluid so it can more accurately give an electrical impulse to block the signal for pain going to the brain.
The oldest patient to receive a device so far was in the 90s and as young as mid-30s, said Matt Cavacini, practice manager at Summit Pain Management.
Not all pain will respond to this type of therapy, depending upon the type of nerve that has been affected, Roth said. It works best for neuropathic pain, on failed back or neck surgery, or nerve compression, neuropathic pain from diabetes, or the phantom pain one gets from a lost limb. Currently it's being tested for use on migraine headaches, but has not been approved by the FDA for that specific use yet. It can give a 70-80 percent improvement to patients' low back and leg pain, Roth said.
“Of everything we do in this office, the thing that has the biggest impact the most quickly is neuromodulation. I've had patients be in tears within 15 minutes of turning it on because they have lived in such chronic pain for so long,” Roth said.
Each patient goes through a week's trial before the permanent surgery. A temporary lead is installed during an office visit, which can be easily removed at the end of the week. If patients respond well, they can proceed with the surgery for the permanent implant.
In addition to the lead, a small device is implanted under the skin that is a computer that carries different programs designed specifically for that patient. Senita Summe said she has several different programs she can use depending on what is bothering her that day. It is recharged by wearing a belt that has a battery charger in it that the patient simply wears while watching TV. The whole thing is controlled by a hand-held remote that looks a lot like a cell phone.
Senita Summe joked that she and her husband both have a different “sleep number.”
Roth stressed that with the current national problem of prescription drug addictions it is nice to have an effective, safe alternative to offer his patients.