What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Apr 6, 2020 | Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Treatments

As a chronic pain patient, you’re familiar with the basic pain management tactics: NSAIDs, over-the-counter medications, low-impact exercise, steroids, injections and more. But what happens if basic pain management tactics no longer work? Yes, you could undergo surgery, but major procedures can be expensive and risky. This is why doctors offer procedures that are less invasive than surgery but a bit more intensive than shots or injections. One of those proposed procedures is a spinal cord stimulator.

A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted device that sends electrical signals to the spinal cord as a way to mask chronic pain throughout the body, This chronic pain is often caused by neuropathic pain, which can be challenging to treat depending on the cause of the pain. The electrical pulses interfere with pain signals and block them from reaching your brain.

How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?

Because the medical device is surgically implanted, a trial procedure is performed before placing the permanent stimulator. The trial produce is just that: a trial to test to see if spinal cord stimulation is the right treatment for you. The test typically lasts for a week, and if you experience significant pain relief, your doctor will schedule a time to implant a permanent device. If not, the wires will be removed, and another form of treatment will be recommended for you.

A spinal cord stimulator consists of two main parts:

  • Thin wires containing electrodes placed in the epidural space along the spinal cord where it will give the most relief
  • An external generator/battery connected to the wires delivering the electrical pulses

Doctors will use fluoroscopy (x-ray imaging) to determine the exact locations for the electrodes. Once implanted, patients will be able to send electrical impulses whenever they begin to feel pain via a remote control.

The amount of relief can vary for each patient, but typically doctors deem spinal cord stimulation a successful treatment if it eliminates more than 50% of a patient’s pain. Additionally, many patients don’t feel anything, and much of their pain is relieved using this implant. However, some patients do feel a slight tingling sensation called paresthesia in the place of pain signals.

Of note, this procedure does not “cure” or “solve” the source of your pain. Rather, it blocks the pain signals from reaching your brain.

What Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Treat?

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) treats chronic pain caused by many different conditions, such as:

  • Nerve-related pain, such as a pinched nerve
  • Back surgery that failed
  • Neuropathy
  • CRPS
  • Phantom Limb Pain after amputation
  • Post Herpetic Neuralgia
  • Shingles Pain

Who Should Receive a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

SCS therapy isn’t for everyone. Doctors will screen patients to ensure this treatment is right for them. They look for specific indicators:

  • Has the patient found relief with less-invasive forms of treatments, surgeries and pain medication? Typically, SCS systems are reserved for people who have tried nearly every other treatment but still cannot find pain relief. Spinal cord stimulation also helps those who are permanently injured and cannot address their injury through more traditional means.
  • Could a patient’s pain be associated with mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety? As mental illness can exacerbate pain, your doctor might ask a patient to undergo a mental health test.

Spinal Cord Stimulation Could Be the Answer to Your Chronic Pain

The ultimate goal of spinal cord stimulation is to help improve your quality of life. While the procedure isn’t a cure-all for your chronic pain, it could help get you back on your feet as a permanent pain management solution.

If the other forms of treatment you’ve tried haven’t worked, you might consider a spinal cord stimulator as the next option in your pain relief journey. Our doctors at Arthritis Relief & Vascular Centers can help you take the next step, so schedule your risk-free appointment today!

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