Washington woman says back pain implant got her off opioids and pain-free

Dr. Joseph Stapleton demonstrates how a paddle is inserted into a paiten's spinal column to relieve pain when attached to the Nevro HF-10 device. (KATU)

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 12 million Americans suffer from back pain, either from injury or following back surgery.

A relatively new treatment is finding success in alleviating the pain and getting patients off opioids.

One Washington woman calls it a life-saver.

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More than 100 people received an implant that blocks lower back pain from reaching the brain at the Northwest Spine and Laser Surgery Center in Wilsonville last year.

For many, it means the pain is gone and so is their dependency on opioids, which are killing thousands each year in the US.

“It’s really been an amazing difference,” said Dr. Joseph Stapleton. “And it’s helped a lot of folks who haven’t tried spinal cord stimulation and it’s helped those who have had it and failed the therapies that were out there in the past.”

The implant - the Nevro HF 10 - is a small electronic device implanted on the lower back that sends high frequency impulses to the spinal cord to a wire-like device called a paddle.

“The surgery would take a small section of bone to allow this to be slid in here,” Stapleton said as he demonstrated how the paddle is inserted into the spinal column. “It would just slide in there and overlie that area.”

Twelve years after an on-the-job injury to her back, Wanda McBee of Silver Lake, Washington received the implant last year.

She was reluctant at first because surgery and a different spinal implant didn’t stop her pain.

She was convinced after a six-day trial period that allows patients to see if it works.

“When I stood up with the leads the first time, I was like, ‘There’s no pain. This is what it’s like to live with no pain.’ I had forgotten,” she said.

She went ahead with the out-patient surgery to have the implant put permanently in place.

“When I walked out of the hospital after putting it in, it was like no pain, hey I’m all for this,” she said.

This little machine right there is a life-saver. It’s a life changer.”

The device's battery can be charged from the outside and the battery last ten years.

But what really sold Mcbee on the device was getting off opioids.

“I never wanted to up my prescription – although I was offered it – because I was afraid of addiction,” she said. “Then when they put the stimulator in and it worked I didn’t take methadone or anything, I just started weaning myself off these opioids. It took me two months.”

Doctor Stapleton says opioid use for chronic pain is on it’s way out.

“There’s been a gradual change in the perception of how opioids should be used,” he said. “I think they’re really good for cancer pain and acute pain, but there’s no evidence that they are helpful for chronic pain.”

Makers of the device say unlike traditional spinal cord stimulation, the Nevro HF10 does not mask pain with tingling or pins-and-needles sensations in patients.

The FDA when reviewing the device for approval rated it as superior therapy to other stimulation devices

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