Mary's story
 Mary's story

  Spinal cord stimulation

Mary says spinal cord stimulation 'has made a big difference in my life'

As the pain shooting down Mary's right leg got more intense, she kept telling herself she'd like to avoid having her knee replaced.

Today, life is better for Mary, after Mayfield Brain & Spine physicians discovered that the original source of the problem was in her spine. After they implanted a spinal cord stimulator, her pain has subsided and her strength and mobility have improved. Just as important, she was better able to sleep or sit still without feeling a "jumpiness" in her legs. Spinal cord stimulation features an implanted device delivering electrical pulses to the spinal cord, masking pain signals before they reach the brain.

"It helped significantly enough for me that I was able to take a knee replacement off the table," Mary says. "It has made a big difference in my life."

Mary enjoying a walk down the street

Mary first came to Mayfield after consulting with an orthopedist about the pain in her legs and her need to move around while trying to rest. She was interested in a clinical trial supported by the Mayfield Education & Research Foundation, studying whether spinal cord stimulation can relieve the symptoms of restless legs syndrome (RLS) for those patients who already are receiving the treatment for lower back pain or neuropathic pain. Restless legs syndrome is a neurologic condition that often is marked by involuntary movement in the feet and lower legs while sleeping or at rest. Symptoms often occur at night and are temporarily relieved by movement.

Before she received the spinal cord stimulation, Mary's pain was mostly in her legs, not in her lower back. The pain was keeping her from things she loved to do, like taking the family's new puppy for a walk. Even sitting and trying to get up was difficult. During long car rides, she had to stop to get out of the car so the pain would subside. While she was sleeping, she often was forced to get up and move around until the feeling subsided.

To initiate her treatment, Mayfield Brain & Spine interventional pain specialist Dr. Marc Orlando implanted a trial spinal cord stimulator in Mary's spine. She liked the results, so she then consulted with Mayfield neurosurgeon Dr. Tann Nichols, who implanted the permanent device in early 2023 in a procedure at the Mayfield Spine Surgery Center in Norwood.

Within a few weeks, Mary was doing more daily activities, including grocery shopping and a few minutes on the stationary bike. She has talked to her family doctor about signing up for some physical therapy to add strength and endurance.

"I would say that on any given day, my discomfort has been reduced by more than 80 percent, and I feel like I can do more things," Mary says.

Dr. Nichols applauded the way Mary had challenged herself to become more active, a prime example of how patients can enhance their recovery with determination and a steady building of movement and strength.

"Mary's positive attitude and willingness to advocate for her own health have measurably improved her outcome," he says. "She has used the relief provided by spinal cord stimulation to really make a difference in her daily life."

Dr. Orlando is principal investigator for the Mayfield Foundation clinical trial, which is designed to better understand potential treatments for restless legs syndrome.

"We know how effective spinal cord stimulation can be in relieving back or leg pain," he says. "Mary is typical of many patients who have difficulty while sleeping or even sitting for an extended period of time. For those patients, we hope to demonstrate that spinal cord stimulation can also help reduce the impact of those symptoms."

Using an external controller, Mary can adjust the settings on the implanted spinal cord stimulator, about the size of a small cookie. It is used most often to help patients after conservative therapies have failed and who would not benefit from additional surgery. Neurosurgeons have used spinal cord stimulation for decades, but recent advances produce faster and more efficient technology – up to 10,000 beats per second.

The stimulator interrupts pain signals from going to the brain, providing relief for the patient while not exposing them to the risks of further surgery. It is implanted in the spine to stimulate the spinal cord, with a battery implanted under the skin, similar to a pacemaker.

Today, Mary is happy with the results and building more activity into her daily routine, grateful for the pain relief in her legs.

"This has been one of the best decisions I ever made," she says. "I would do it again."

~ Cliff Peale

>> more hope stories

Hope Story Disclaimer -"Mary's Story" is about one patient's health-care experience. Please bear in mind that because every patient is unique, individual patients may respond to treatment in different ways. Results are influenced by many factors and may vary from patient to patient.

A spinal cord stimulator works by masking pain signals before they reach the brain. A stimulator device delivers electric pulses to electrodes placed over the spinal cord. Modified by the pulses, the pain signals are either not perceived or are replaced by a tingling feeling.

Related links:

Dr. Marc Orlando

Dr. Tann Nichols

Spinal cord stimulation

View press release on