Spinal Cord Stimulators & Paralysis; What Are the Risks?

Posted on Apr 18, 2014

A spinal cord stimulator is a device designed to help patients who are trying to combat chronic back pain by exerting pulsed electrical signals to the spinal cord. These stimulators are implanted in the waist and send out low currents of electricity through wires that are threaded up the back to the electrode near the spinal cord. This procedure is said to be an alternative to pain medications because of  some patients can become addicted to the narcotic pain medications and they can cause other adverse consequences. Medtronic reported that there are as many as 50,000 people living in the U.S. that have been implanted with spinal stimulators each year; mostly for back pain or peripheral nerve pain.

According to the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that 1 in 100 patients that have been implanted with the spinal stimulators, experience spinal cord or spinal nerve-root damage, resulting in injuries ranging from muscle weakness to complete paraplegia. The damage to the spinal cord occurred when the patient was punctured or compressed by the stimulators electrodes, reported the WSJ.

The FDA reported that in 2013 there were 58 incidents of paralysis, compared to 48 in the previous year.

Doctors who have implanted the device have pinpointed a problem that may be the cause of the injuries in these patients. They indicate that the surgeon's lack of awareness of the risks associated with operating near the spinal cord and the lack of training are to blame. Many different physicians can perform the implant, so developing standards would be difficult because there is no one medical specialty or society that is responsible for issuing guidelines and tracking performance and outcomes. And to many physicians who have not done the procedure before, it looks "simple and straightforward" and those who are not familiar with the risk of the procedure.

While spinal cord stimulators have helped many thousands of patients reduce pain and decrease their need for prescription pain medication, if the physician performing the implantation does not have the proper training, experience, and awareness, the patient could be at risk of serious complications.

What does this mean for the patient?  If you're thinking about this surgical procedure or it has been recommended for you, question the doctor who will perform the surgery about the risks, benefits, and his or her experience and training. Get all of the information before making a decision about the surgery.

If you believe you may be a victim of medical malpractice, you need to get information and act on it.  Contact our offices and our recognized, board-certified medical malpractice lawyers in D.C. will give you information you can use.  

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We think that's the way it should be.

Pick up a copy of our 7 Symptoms of Medical Malpractice: How Every Patient Can Recognize, Stop and Avoid Medical Mistakes for more information about medical malpractice and medical mistakes.

For more on this story visit the Wall Street Journal website. 

Image coutesy of WSJ.com

Frank R. Kearney, Attorney-at-Law
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Experienced DC Workers' Comp, Long Term Disability & Accident Lawyer