Risky activities with a spinal cord stimulator?

Posted by vincescs @vincescs, Apr 3 3:01pm

I recently had a second spinal cord stimulator implanted. The first was implanted for my neck in 2017. This second one is for my back. I'm aware of the activity restrictions the device companies warn against like golfing, roller coaster, scuba diving, etc.

What I'm wondering is how people assess risk for activities that aren't expressly prohibited but could result in additional complications or damage to their device.

For example, I've been restoring a vintage motorcycle with the idea of taking short rides in nice weather on the back roads around my house. I've got all the appropriate safety gear, including a jacket with back armor. No highways or rush hour riding are planned. But I still have some concern about the potential damage to my device in the unlikely event I went down.

I really don't want to live in a bubble either, so I'm wondering if others are also concerned about this type of thing?

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@vincescs Have you discussed your concerns with your spine specialist? That would be a good question to ask. I don't have experience with spinal cord simulator implants, but I am a spine surgery patient.

I asked a similar question because my family had a horse that I wanted to take for my own. I was 7 months post op from a single level cervical fusion when I asked my surgeon if I could ride a horse. This was not any horse, but an older, calm, well trained "bomb proof" horse and it was just for trail riding at a slow walk. No horse is really "bomb proof", but that is how they describe a horse that doesn't spook at things like traffic, loose dogs or crazy bike riders who whizz right past from behind silently until they are upon you. That scares many horses and joggers alike, and puts both bicycle rider and equestrian at risk of accidental injury if the horse is afraid and kicks out or spooks.

The answer I got was that my fusion was solid enough that I could ride a horse with the understanding that horse back riding carries inherent risk. So I had essentially the same advice that I would get if I hadn't been a spine patient. With simulators that have leads that could pull out or pull across tissues under certain circumstances, I wouldn't know if that could cause injury to nerves or the spinal cord, but your surgeon would be best to advise you on that. I agree that we can't stop living and doing activities we enjoy as long as the calculated risk is acceptable for our own well being and medical condition. Trail riding on my horse helped build core strength in my spinal muscles and helped in my recovery. The chores of horse care and grooming and saddling require muscle strength and good posture, so that was a great benefit.

I did several years later fall off someone else's horse and break my ankle, but my neck was fine, no injuries there other than the ankle. I always wear a riding helmet. So my safety now is to only ride my own horse, only with other people with calm horses, and not on days where wind will get horses anxious, and that my horse and I communicate well together and know each other well. If the horse is anxious, I get off. It will be better on another day. It is a trust that you build up when owning a horse and working with it often. Every day you are either training your horse for good safe behavior or unsafe behavior depending on what you do.


I was concerned about activity restrictions when I got my first spinal cord stimulator and discussed with my doctor. His viewpoint was that he was implanting these devices in people so they could live in less pain and lead more active lives. At the time I asked, he had just implanted a spinal cord stimulator in a collegiate lacrosse player.

So I am trying to make a distinction between primary risk factors that could cause leads to fracture or migrate (e.g. roller coaster). I would consider motorcycle riding to be a secondary risk. Meaning, in the unlikely event I go down, I could be injured and additionally incur some damage to my device.


Well since my back isn’t put together very well. You can do pretty much anything!


Great question. I'm about to trial a SCS for lumbar and cervical pain. The main reasons are to get back on my Triumph Tiger 900 GT, run a 5K, play with my grandkids and play pickleball. The person I spoke with during the required psych evaluation, said I would be able to do all these things again. The goal being getting my life back. I had asked the pain doctor about riding a horse (equating that to a motorcycle) I just didn't say how many horses (power). I framed it that way because I know of no doctor that would tell me, sure, go ride a motorcycle, (they're so safe). I'm a retired nurse and they would all shame me for riding a motorcycle. I was surprised when the doctor said no to the horse. When I asked why not, he responded, your my mother's age, you could fall off and get hurt. If the SCS works for me, I will ride my Tiger, hopefully for a few more years.


After getting my Medtronics SCS implanted back in 2018, I was able to take up cycling again. Was doing 30 to 40 miles a week. I even started doing some gentle skiing. The SCS lasted only 3 years. A bunch of the electrodes on the battle had burned out. Boo!

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