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Published on April 19, 2017

Stephanie Neuman

Relief from chronic pain? It was music to her ears!

Nerve damage from a neck injury in 2012 resulted in constant pain for Shelly Heerts, a Holmen school music teacher. The severe pain threatened to put an end to the career she loves.

Shelly is certainly not alone. "Pain is the number one reason people see a doctor," reports Gundersen pain specialist Stephanie Neuman, MD, Pain Medicine. "About 80 percent of adults will experience neck and/or back pain severe enough to keep them from doing routine activities for at least a week."

Like most pain sufferers, Shelly tried everything to find relief. Working with staff in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Pain Clinic at Gundersen Neurosciences, Shelly tried physical therapy, pain medicine, injections and even explored the possibility of surgery but found it was not an option for her. "I didn't know how much longer I could tolerate the pain," confesses Shelly.
Seemingly at the end of her rope and out of options, Dr. Neuman, told Shelly about another option—an implantable spinal cord stimulator.

"The spinal cord stimulator uses safe, low level electrical impulses to block pain signals from reaching the brain," explains Dr. Neuman. "In an outpatient procedure, wire leads are placed through a small incision in the low back into the epidural space near the spinal cord. The leads are attached to a battery, similar to a heart pacemaker, implanted just under the skin."

Spinal cord stimulation is generally recommended only after other treatments have not been successful or when surgery is not an option. To learn if you might be a candidate, talk with your healthcare provider about a referral to the Gundersen Pain Clinic.

She goes on to explain, "An external programmer is used to turn the unit on and off, adjust the intensity of the stimulation and switch between programs customized to the patient's pain."

Dr. Neuman reports that the vast majority of Gundersen patients get 50 percent relief or more with the spinal cord stimulator. Some patients describe the feeling as a pleasant tingling sensation or they feel no unusual sensations at all. Shelly reports, "I noticed a huge difference right away. At last the pain was tolerable."

Shelly still has some limitations, but today she's more focused on all the things she's able to do: "I can play piano again. Then there are all those everyday things most people take for granted such as driving, fixing my hair, getting a good night's sleep and giving hugs. My kids got their mom back."