South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has become the first in the UK to use a new implantable device for patients who suffer from back pain.
Consultant in pain management, Dr Ashish Gulve implanted the ReActiv8® device at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
ReActiv8® is a small surgically implanted device, which involves two wires inserted on either side of the spine, close to the nerves responsible for activating key muscles stabilising the lower back.
These wires are connected to an implanted pulse generator, like a pacemaker. With a hand held controller, patients activate the device twice a day for about 30 minutes to stimulate these muscles.
The ReActiv8® implant does not mask the pain but rehabilitates the key stabilising muscles of the back, reducing abnormal, pain provoking movements of spine.
Prior to the implant, patients had to undergo specific physiotherapy and were prescribed painkillers.
Dr Gulve said: “In most cases, low back pain starts as a simple strain or sprain injury in one of the joints in the spine. In response to this joint pain, the brain suppresses the activation of the muscles that normally stabilise the lower back.
“When this happens, the spine moves more easily into painful positions. This can result in an ongoing cycle of chronic low back pain and muscle weakening.
“Specific exercise programmes offered by specialist physiotherapists can help to regain control of spine stabilising muscles.
“In some patients, conventional treatment and physiotherapy is not enough to restore control of the spine stabilizing muscles. In those patients, ReActiv8® implant can help to regain control of these muscles.
“It can take anywhere between three to six months for patients to feel the benefit of the implant because it is regenerating the muscle, meaning it’s not something that works instantaneously; you have to use it regularly to notice that significant improvement in the pain as well as function.”
Dr Gulve and his colleague, Professor Sam Eldabe, have been involved in the development of this new technology for last seven years, as part of a research study.
And he believes the advanced technology will make a significant difference to those patients at James Cook who are dealing with intractable back pain and have not responded to physiotherapy or any other medications or injections.
He said: “The patients who have been part of the study have had their lives changed by this therapy. For example, for the past five or six years one of our patients, Rachel Dixon, wasn’t able to ride her horses, which was her hobby.”
Rachel worked as a nurse and injured her back 20 years ago.
Rachel said: “My back pain started in 1999. I was off work for a year with the pain. I tried all sorts: I had painkillers, injections in my spine, paid privately for chiropractor and an osteopath and nothing seemed to work.”
Dr Gulve said: “Following implant, Rachel has made a fantastic recovery and has a pain level of zero. She’s no longer on painkillers. Her quality of life is significantly better. She’s back to horse riding and she’s back to herself.”
Rachel said: “I feel like I’ve got my life back in the last two years. I feel like I’ve just started living again. It’s surreal. My life’s done a 360 degree turn. I’m doing stuff I never thought I’d be back doing.
“If you said to me I’d be back horse riding I would have never believed it. Being back in that saddle is just something I never thought I’d get to do again.”
And it is not just Rachel that is feeling the benefits of the treatment. Her family is too.
Rachel’s daughter Amy said: “She couldn’t do many activities with us – she missed out on a lot. She felt very sad. She thought she was letting us down all the time.
“It changed everything after she had the implant. She realised she was able to do a lot more with us. It’s been good to spend time just my mam and me knowing we’ve got something in common – horse riding. And that it’s not just one of us doing it, but that we can now do it together. Please don’t take the implant out of her!”
Dr Gulve is optimistic about the ReActiv8 treatment and hopes to help many more people in the future. He said “We are looking forward to improve quality of life and function in many more patients suffering from back pain.”
ReActiv8® is available to NHS patients at selected centres in the country.
You can find out more about Rachel’s journey in this short film by ReActiv8®.