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Jill W.

Percutaneous Surface Stimulation for Chronic Pain

There are so many options for treating chronic pain but finding the right solution and getting the right diagnosis is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Jill is no exception. Living in rural Wisconsin, she lives a very active lifestyle with her husband and three children, enjoying the outdoors and being small business owners. But when her pain started to interfere with her lifestyle, something had to change. 

Jill remembers always having aches and pains, even when she was young and raising her children. The chronic pain in her lower back transformed into becoming systemic and she could no longer have a direct cause for the pain such as lifting a child the wrong way or twisting too much while gardening. The pain was constant and she wanted to know why and how to fix it. While in her 30’s she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, but she as not satisfied with that labeling of her pain. 

Not having a clear treatment guideline, she began to try various options.  First was pharmaceutical.  She tried a few but did not like the way she felt and truly opposed taking medications over a long period of time. She then began to see a chiropractor, but that did not help either. She then tried an osteopathy and then physical therapy but neither was effective. Jill’s back pain persisted. She then opted for some cortisone injections into her back. It helped temporarily, but the nagging pain in her lower back would come back before she could schedule another injection. Not finding a solution in the medical field, Jill started to look elsewhere. She tried gadgets sold on-line and over broadcast television. She felt like she was “chasing rainbows” and spending a lot of money trying to find a treatment.

Jill was on the internet searching, hunting for a solution. She found the manufacturer of a percutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (PENS) device. While speaking to the company representative, she was cautious at first, even a little skeptical. She was familiar with transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) but not PENS.  TENS units use pulsed low frequency electrical current delivered from a small unit through two electrodes placed on the surface of the skin.  The electrodes are small pads with a sticky gel to help conduct the electrical activity from the unit through the surface of the skin.  A PENS device sends alternating high frequency current signals from the unit through deep tissue electrodes also placed on the surface of the skin.  The PENS electrodes are different from TENS electrodes because they have microscopic needle-like probes that penetrate the surface of the skin to deliver the current deep into the tissue. The deep tissue treatments tend to have a long lasting effect. Clinical trials have also demonstrated not only a reduction in pain, but improved range of motion and reduced muscle spasms. 

Jill got a prescription for the device from her doctor and ordered the device for home delivery. Upon arrival, Jill set up the small, pre-programmed, portable device and placed the electrodes on her lower back. Trying the device for the first time, she could feel the electrical pulses on her skin but it was not uncomfortable like an electric shock. Instead, it felt more soothing like a massage. More importantly, the pain relief was almost immediate. There was no waiting for a medication or taking time to drive to an appointment. This small, handheld device was giving Jill relief from the pain that has been haunting her for years. 

Over time, she has found her body to be flexible again and her movements more fluid. After playing volleyball with her son, her shoulder was bothering her the next day. She placed the electrodes on her shoulder area and with one treatment the shoulder pain extinguished. With consistent use, Jill has found the intensity of her daily lower back pain has decreased and confidence in her motions is back. “I just don’t hurt any more,” she declared.

Not all chronic pain is the same and that warrants the many options that people have for treating it. The key is to try the variety of options to find the right solution. Learn more about neurotechnologies for pain management with our neurotech directory.

Ray D.

Post-traumatic Stress (PTSD) & Chronic Pain

This veteran’s name and photo have been masked to protect his identity.

All too often neurological conditions are complex and there are combined conditions to treat for one person. This is a story of a veteran living with PTSD and chronic pain.

High altitude is high adrenaline for Ray, a retired Marine serving from 1997 to 2003 with two years in Iraq then Marine reserves until 2012. He was conducting reconnaissance missions that logged more than 300 jumps from airplanes at a high altitude. From that flight level, your thoughts revolve around the oxygen that you need at the time but not the real toll that jump is taking to your body upon landings. With over 560 parachute landings under his belt, Ray’s back and legs were damaged in the process. When he returned from the combat zone, he knew that he had mental health issues but pushed them aside for work. He found himself drinking and isolating himself and then turning to suicide to ease the pain. He was diagnosed with spinal disc damage and as a result lives with severe chronic pain.


It was not until 2009 did he finally seek help. The DAV (Disabled American Veterans) assisted him with his paperwork. When he finally received help, he was diagnosed with PTSD. He finds his network of fellow veterans helps him with his PTSD and he also volunteers for the veterans crisis line. In 2012, two major events happened in his life. His wife signed him up for the VA wheelchair games and after doing so she passed away. Still grieving from the loss of his wife, he attended the VA wheelchair games any way. He found that attending those games was the greatest gift his deceased wife could give him. He recognized that he is not alone and there are other veterans living with PTSD. Adaptive sports and, even more so, the competition helped him turn his life around. 


But even with adaptive sports, work, and volunteer duties, Ray still deals with chronic pain on a daily basis. He finds in the evenings when things settle from the day, he slips into symptoms of PTSD and he focuses on his pain. Both make it difficult for him to sleep. He tried many different treatments but just dealt with the pain. This scenario frequently happens with people living with multiple complex conditions. Treating clinicians tend to focus on one area rather than looking at how the various conditions can mask or magnify other conditions. In Ray’s case, he tries to live with the pain while addressing the symptoms of PTSD.


A novel neuromodulation device was introduced to him as a non-invasive high-frequency surface stimulation device. He agreed to try it for three months to see how it works. After one week, his response was “this thing is amazing.” With 6 slipped disks in his back, his pain ranges from his legs, back and arms. He wears the device for 4 hours per day which happens to be the life of its rechargeable battery.  “It feels like a vibration on the skin, like a deep massage,” Ray explains. The small adhesive patch with a smartwatch size processor is a wearable that recently came onto the market with FDA clearance. Ray wears it all day and can’t tell that he is wearing it. On first use, he feels pain relief within 10-15 minutes of turning the device on with a residual effect for about 24 hours. He feels like his pain levels have dropped by 20% within just one week of use. The device connects to a smartphone app allowing Ray to control the device including the levels of current going into his body with a range of 0 to 100 milliamps. He has tried TENS units before but this is nothing like a TENS. “There are no wires and it’s comfortable like a massage.”  Even his mother noticed a difference in Ray, she mentioned to him that he has been able to focus more than before. With his pain reduced, Ray’s mind can now concentrate on other things other than his pain.