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Pain: Reasons to be cheerful

Fergus Walsh | 13:15 UK time, Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Robert_Mason_and_his_wife.jpgI get to meet lots of remarkable people: pioneering scientists, dedicated doctors and patients with amazing stories to tell. Robert Mason, who is the first person in Britain to be fitted with a motion sensor neurostimulator, is a pretty inspiring chap.

Eight years ago he was removing the gearbox from a baling machine and badly damaged his lower back. It left him with excruciating pain. Even the most powerful painkillers did not help.

Despite that, he is one of the most optimistic and positive people I've met. So I was delighted to see that his device, Medtronic's RestoreSensor, is working so well. This morning he told me he had got four and a half hours unbroken sleep last night - the longest he has had since his accident.

Neurostimulators are not new, but Robert's device automatically alters the amount of electrical impulses it emits, based on his position. This is important because, like most patients with chronic lower back and leg pain, he needs different levels of pain relief for different positions.

Prior to being fitted with the device, Robert says he never got more than two and a half hours' sleep, and that was in bursts of 20 minutes.

The combination of sleep deprivation and constant pain would leave most of us in a pretty desperate state. Robert is an extreme case, but it is thought about one in five adults has chronic pain. According to the British Pain Society, at least 60% of that is due to back and neck problems. Many people suffer in silence. A pan-European survey found that one in five chronic-pain sufferers had lost a job as a result of pain and the same proportion had been diagnosed with depression.

Robert Mason puts his positive outlook down to his family and living somewhere "nice and green". Although he is still on crutches, Robert can now walk his children home from school without being in agony, and he is hoping to get back to work before long: reasons to be cheerful indeed.

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