Occipital Nerve Stimulation Study Findings

Mayo Clinic researchers reported findings of a small study of occipital nerve stimulation at the American Academy of Neurology’s annual meeting in April. While the press release’s headline proclaims it to be a “safe and effective” treatment for chronic headache, the results aren’t so rosy. In fact, safety is never even mention in the release.

There were 16 participants in the study, nine of whom had permanent stimulators implanted. The press release doesn’t explain this, but I assume it’s because the others didn’t have sufficient relief with the trial stimulator so they didn’t have the permanent stimulator implanted.

The average pain decrease is reported as 54%, but it’s not clear whether this was the average of all 16 patients or just the nine with the permanent implant. If it includes all 16, this is pretty good, but if it’s only nine, it’s ugly.

Six patients had no change or a change of less than 50%. Is this of the nine patients with implants, those without or all of them? Eight patients reported 50 to 95% pain relief and two had complete relief. So, only nine patients had implants, but 10 reported between 50% and complete pain relief. Did one of the nine have two different scores or did one of the original 16 have relief during the trial but didn’t have the permanent implant?

You know that I got my nerve stimulator at the Mayo Clinic and I’m almost positive that this is the study that my doctors began after I had my implant. I trust and like these men. I’d like to blame Mayo’s public relations staff for this misleading press release.

I’ve worked in corporate communications and have also dissected a lot of academic journal articles and even written a few. All research results are massaged; generally the less favorable the findings, the more convoluted the presentation of those findings. Often it’s not intentional, but the researcher’s biases always influence the results.

Enough about the implications of reporting. What remains is that this press release does nothing to convince me that nerve stimulation is safe and effective.

Note: Ironically, I missed this article when it was first released because I was having trouble with my nerve stimulator. Because the leads had moved, having the device on made my headaches worse than with it off.


6 Responses to “Occipital Nerve Stimulation Study Findings”

  1. PamC Says:

    I’m going to be a part of this study in Seattle at Swedish Pain and Headache Center. My neurologist is one of the sub-investigators.

    I don’t know if I’ll be signing an NDA. I assume not, since my health information is going to be released to the FDA, etc. If that is the case, I’ll get answers for you!

    Congratulations, Pam! That’s big news. I’d love to hear more about it. Look for an e-mail from me soon.


  2. PamC Says:

    It’s totally working! If I avoit my triggers, I’m at about 0-2 migraines a week!! *happybounce*

    That’s fantastic! What great news.


  3. Pain in the neck Says:

    Since having my occipital nerve stimulator put in in Nov., 2007, my cervicogenic headache that I had (at a pain level from 8-12, 24/7) is now minmal. I have had 90-95 % relief. I do have one loose lead that has been omited from my programming and I have some stmulation over the ipg site. All in all I am very pleased with the results. Nothing else even came close to giving me ay relief.

  4. Bob Says:

    I have had pain on the rt side of my head for 4 yrs. Nothing helps. … I had beee everywhere and done everything…. From all kinds of medications, Botox shots, accupunchure…The relief is minimal and short lived… I suffer all the time– on a pain scale of 1-10 a 8-9 most days and never below a 6. I would likde to know more about the nreve stimulator. I need help and relief from PAIN!

  5. Ian Says:

    I too have simptoms simular to Bob following a whiplash accident 4 years ago…does anyone know if this is likely to cure me and if there are any side effects to worry about?

  6. Rob Says:

    How do I find someone to implant an occipital nerve stimulator
    needed badly….HELP!
    Have insurance etc

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