Relief Through Occipital Nerve Stimulation

I’ve suffered from migraines for the past 16 years, since I was 15 years old. In that time I’ve been to doctors in four different states (Illinois, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming), including neurologists, headache specialists, headache clinics, you name it. I’ve tried both Eastern and Western medicine, everything from energy healing to acupuncture to Botox to more pills than I care to remember.

My headaches got worse over the years until finally in the winter of 2008-2009, they were so bad I couldn’t work anymore. My neurologist didn’t know what to do with me anymore so I was at the point of just popping narcotics daily. I realized I’d reached a fork in the road. I could either go down the road that let me into depression, painkiller addiction, and an endless cycle of pain, or I could choose to take things into my own hands and do anything and everything it took to get myself better. I chose the latter.

I live in Wyoming so my local medical care is mediocre at best. I decided to take my legally afforded 12 weeks off work through the FMLA, put my life on hold, and travel to Chicago where my family was, hoping I could find a solution through a specialist there “in the big city.”

To make a long story short, I found an excellent doctor there, and after ruling out several temporary solutions (nerve blocks, radio-frequency nerve ablation, etc.), we decided to give an occipital nerve stimulator a try. I won’t lie…the idea of an implant sent me into a full on panic attack at first. But I was willing to do anything to get relief.

My trial for the stimulator was at the end of May 2009, and was very successful, so the permanent device was implanted at the beginning of June 2009. I had four leads implanted, covering the occipital nerve (on the left), the trigeminal nerve (on both sides), and the supraorbital nerve (on the right). Two weeks after my surgery I was back in Wyoming and back at work.

My nerve stimulator has given me my life back. Since my surgery, I work again full time, have gotten married, and continue to do all the things I used to love (horseback riding, skiing, hiking…you name it). I wish I had gotten it years ago. I won’t lie…it’s not perfect. I still have bad days where the stimulator just doesn’t quite cut it. But if I had to put a number on it, I’d say my stimulator has reduced my pain by 80%.

I think I got really lucky, finding the right doctor at the right time, and an outstanding surgeon. I’ve heard horror stories from other people who have had stimulators put in so I encourage anyone who is considering one to take the time to do your research. Just because there is a doctor near you that performs the surgery doesn’t mean that (s)he is the best one for the job.

I feel like many people in chronic pain, not just migraineurs, suffer so much that their pain becomes part of their identity. They say they want it gone, but when a solution is offered, they often find excuses why that particular option won’t work. So my take-home message is this: You have to take your health and life into your own hands if you are serious about trying to get relief. No one will come knocking on your door and offer you a magical solution. You have to be willing to help yourself and do whatever it takes, no matter how scary it may seem. Who knows…you may just find the one thing that will work for you.

Believe it or not, this was the short version of the story. If you’d like more details, I encourage you to visit my blog: http://onstim.blogspot.com

I documented my experience, complete with photos, and I also have an email attached to that site in case you want to contact me with questions. The site also contains a list of doctors who are known to do the occipital nerve stimulator implantation. It is by no means comprehensive but it’s a place to start.

I want to help anyone that I can to find relief, if possible, and to let others know that they are not alone in their quest.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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