New device aims to alleviate chronic pain without pills

Doctors place device near nerve causing pain

By Haley Hernandez - Health Reporter

HOUSTON - Chronic pain has real consequences that affect daily life, such as your ability to work, care for children and get quality sleep.

Oftentimes, the only solution offered comes in the form of pain pills. But with growing concern about the safety of prescription pain medication, many patients want alternatives.

"It all started in '07. I was a medical assistant, had a patient fall on me," Kandice Kropelnicki said of when her chronic pain began.

She has two young children now and said she's missing out on the time she has to hold them.

"I have a 2-year-old and I can't pick her up. I have to sit down. It hurts to pick her up. So I've lost a lot of, I feel like, my baby. She's my last one and she turned 2 this year," Kropelnicki said.

Doctors at Athletic Orthopedics and Knee Center in West Houston are implanting a device called Stimwave near Kropelnicki's spine. It's a new device doctors place near the nerve causing pain.

"If you take away pain, you increase functionality. You get stronger. Now, we're not talking about stimulating the muscle. We're just talking about getting stronger. It helps people in their life," said Dr. Jack Jenson, an orthopedic surgeon at Athletic Orthopedics and Knee Center.

Stimwave is controlled from outside of the body with a wireless antenna. The patient decides when relief is needed.

"She can control it with her phone and it stimulates the nerves to block the painful nerves, and also increases the circulation in her legs," said Dr. Pawan Grover, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist at AOKC. "She'll actually get more blood flow and then there's a feature on there which basically stimulates your body's neurochemicals and improves depression, anxiety."

Kandice said she knew this was the best option to cure her pain because she was part of a clinical trial showing the device was successful.

"I was just, like, 'Wow.' It was really like one minute you didn't have as much pain, and then you get it taken out and then it's, like, 'Wow.' You don't realize how good it was until it's gone," she said.

Now, doctors hope the device will help people like Kropelnicki.

"Women are historically undertreated for pain because, when they have pain, they tend to be dismissed because they say, 'It's in your head,' or 'It's a hormonal thing,'" Grover said. "This pain is a real thing. It affects your life. We know now the link between pain and stress, and what it does to your immune system. Basically, it destroys your life."

By having Stimwave implanted, Kropelnicki can get her life back.

"With the way the trial went, in my heart of hearts, I do feel like it's going to improve a lot," she said.

Jensen said pregnant women and people with pacemakers are not good candidates for this therapy.

Stimwave said the procedure is covered by most insurance plans and Medicare. People who qualify will pay copays between $2,000 and $5,000.

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