Before the coronavirus pandemic came along, one of the health industry’s main challenges was a nationwide opioid epidemic. Now, new technology in the field of pain management offers an alternative to opioids.
Every day we see examples of how far technology has come in just a few years. Recently, a Peshtigo woman became the first person in Wisconsin to use a new technology at Aurora Baycare Medical Center called Spinal Cord Stimulation.
“The pain was so intense,” explains Mary Gryzwa, Peshtigo, Wis., “I could hardly walk.”
Like 80 percent of the adults in the U.S.,Gryzwa suffered from lower back pain.
“I was in excruciating pain and couldn’t do any of my activities like I wanted to,” says Gryzwa, “…like walking, biking, playing golf.”
It wasn’t just painful to be active, even sleep became elusive. “Oh, I was up all night walking the floor,” she says, “I had ice packs and I tried heat, the whole 9 yards.”
Dr.Chris Howson, with the pain management team at Aurora Baycare says Gryzwa’s predicament is understandable. “She’d gone through all of the more traditional pain routes; physical therapy, chiropractic, medications, different types of injections,” he explains. “I think it was very reasonable for her to be frustrated.”
In fact, Dr. Howson says low back pain is the number one reason for disability in the United States. But while Gryzwa’s back pain was not uncommon, she did have a unique connection to the field of medical technology.
“My son said ‘Mom, I think we can help you,’ and they did!,” she says, referring to her son who works for one of the companies pioneering Spinal cord Stimulation (SCS) technology.
Similar to a pacemaker, Dr. Howson explains how a tiny device is implanted near a patient’s back. “This device uses the tiniest amounts of electricity to stimulate the areas of your pain that are in charge of transmitting pain signals from your back or your legs, up to your brain.”
After a thorough examination, Dr. Howson determined Gryzwa was a good candidate for SCS.
Before permanent implantation, however, he let her take it for a test drive.
“You just wear the device on your back, it’s simply taped on,” says Howson. “You get to wear it for a week and really live your life. Do some of the things you want to, maybe that you couldn’t do before as a trial run to see if it works for you.”
“Now I’m able to go bike riding and walking and golfing like I used to,” says Gryzwa.
The method used to implant an SCS device is an outpatient procedure, and doesn’t require even an overnight stay in the hospital.
Gryzwa also says she had no hesitation going into Aurora Baycare, even in the midst of a pandemic.
“They followed Covid protocol exactly the way it should be,” Gryzwa says. “We all had facemasks, they took my temperature. It was very, very professional.”
The SCS unit is controlled by a hand held device, similar to a remote control, which Dr. Howson says allows patients to adjust their own mechanism over the phone with their healthcare provider.
Dr. Howson says most patients he sees aren’t looking to run a marathon or do anything extreme like that. They’re just looking to live a normal life, free of pain. He says the ability to provide that is it’s own reward.
“They just want to go to the grocery store. They want to hang out with their grandchildren or play a round of golf,” Howson says. “To be able to give them the tools to do that is a really great part of my job.”