Pacemaker helps manage pain with spinal surgery


Spine surgery that requires you to be conscious? Before Kim Lipinski underwent this unusual surgery, she endured a stabbing pain emanating from her spine that just wouldn't go away.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Giancarlo Barolat is a pioneer in using pacemakers to help control chronic pain.

Barolat has perfected the science of testing the devices while the patient is awake during surgery so they can tell him exactly where the pain is coming from.

"They can tell me very precisely where they feel the pain and whether they feel the stimulation," said Barolat.

Barolat implanted Lipinski's pacemakers, and even though she was awake, she did not remember it at all.

An electrode is implanted on the nerves or spinal cord in an area strategically designated to relieve the pain. The electricity that passes through the electrode is generated by a pacemaker implanted under the skin. The patient can adjust the electrical impulses with a remote control.

"I would say mine is 90 percent success," said Lipinski.

About 45,000 of these devices are implanted in the U.S. every year.

Some pain experts argue it simply masks the pain and doesn't treat the cause. Dr. Barolot says the procedure doesn't cure pain, but has a 50 to 75 percent chance of providing relief.

Barolat says the pacemaker for pain can be used for people with chronic headaches and for back pain that has not responded to conventional treatments.

One of the potential risks of any surgery like this is paralysis.

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