Nightly News   |  October 16, 2012

Back pain relief from an unlikely place

Spinal cord stimulation is helping some patients resume an active lifestyle that was once stunted by sciatica. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> by one estimate, 80% of us complain of back pain. it's a problem so chronic for people, they've run out of solutions that at least conventional medicine can offer them. as we've been asking in our series, what is the alternative. our report tonight from dr. nancy snyderman .

>> reporter: cathy is playing music again. a small but significant sign that her days of agonizing back pain are over.

>> i'm feeling much more hopeful.

>> reporter: when two surgeries failed to reduce the excruciating nerve pain shooting down her legs commonly called sciatica, she turned to technology and a device called a spinal cord stimulater.

>> i can increase or decrease the intensity.

>> reporter: the goal, pain relief , and reduce dependency on powerful painkillers. neurostimulation has come a long way.

>> once we get the stimulation into the right area, we finetune it.

>> reporter: implanted under the skin of the lower back, the device lets the patient control the amount of electrical current traveling to the nerves.

>> they can't get adequate relief with nerve pain medications, that's the time to think about a spinal cord stimula stimulater.

>> the spinal cord stimulater is just one step in resuming an active lifestyle . kathy is complimenting her recovery with regular workouts.

>> that strength is pulling out of your legs.

>> reporter: Martha Mason teaches her a technique called gyrotonic. one of a variety of strengthening and breathing methods that is important to maintaining back health.

>> it's important to get your muscles strong beforehand. if it's an accident you haven't planned for, get the body moving as quickly as possible.

>> reporter: other treatments for back pain, acupuncture. mounting evidence suggests it is a viable early option for stimulating the body's natural painkillers.

>> you get this brain activity that releases endorphins and just the release into the body has numerous physiological effects that can help with stress, sleep, pain relief .

>> reporter: in the case of the stimulaters, the surgery takes two and a half hours, the device stays in for life and the battery is replaced every ten years. good news, the risks are minimal and this is covered by insurance. doctors want patients to be pain free and off narcotics.