When you suffer an injury, the nerves in your body send pain signals to indicate the location of the damage. Pain is a hugely important survival mechanism as it allows you and your body to react to danger indicators and prevent further injury.
However, pain isn’t always beneficial. Nerves can fire when they don’t need to or when there’s nothing you can do to rectify the situation (like damage that puts pressure on nerves in your spine). Certain types of pain serve no purpose other than to reduce your quality of life or limit your range of motion.
Chronic back pain is a common issue. For some people, it can be so severe that they are no longer able to enjoy their life fully. Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) can be an effective pain management tool for patients suffering from certain types of chronic back pain. Spinal cord stimulators send targeted electrical impulses that disrupt the nerve pain signals that are causing discomfort.
What Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is made up of several parts. Patients who have a spinal cord stimulator installed can control the electrical impulses that disrupt the pain signals whenever they are experiencing discomfort from their chronic back pain by using a remote control.
The spinal cord stimulator is a fairly basic medical tool that can have a profoundly positive life-changing impact on patients. The device essentially comprises a handful of very small wires and a miniaturized battery pack. The wires are carefully positioned near the offending nerves in the epidural space (the small gap between the spinal cord and the interior walls of the vertebral canal). The battery usually needs to be placed a short distance away from the wires since it can’t fit in the spine or back. It often ends up being implanted in the buttocks or in some cases the abdomen (a patient’s unique physiology and the location of the problem nerves will usually dictate where its best placed).
Activating the spinal cord stimulator will change how your body experiences pain. Some patients experience “paresthesia” – or a tingling sensation – instead of the chronic pain they suffered prior to the device’s implantation. There are alternative models that lessen the paresthesia for patients who find that sensation particularly uncomfortable.
What Can a Spinal Cord Stimulator Treat?
Spinal cord stimulation can be used to treat several sources of chronic pain, including post-surgical pain and chronic back pain. Other types of pain that spinal cord stimulation can help patients with include:
- Spinal Cord injuries
- Amputation pain
What If It Doesn’t Work or I Don’t Like the Sensation?
This is a valid concern many patients have when they’re considering SCS. That’s why patients undergo a mandatory trial period prior to permanent device implantation. This approximately weeklong trial period entails the placement of a temporary SCS device.
Patients shouldn’t expect complete pain elimination. In most cases, a roughly 50 percent reduction in pain is considered a successful trial, and we encourage those patients to proceed with permanent SCS implantation.
How Effective Is Spinal Cord Stimulation for Pain Treatment?
Spinal cord stimulation has been proven to be an effective means to treat chronic pain for a variety of conditions. The BurstDR™ neurostimulation devices we implant are particularly effective for many patients, including some who failed to receive satisfactory results from previous SCS attempts.
A study that followed 24 patients who suffered from chronic back pain found that 63 percent felt that their pain had improved two years after having a spinal cord stimulator installed. Another 16 patients in the same study underwent physical therapy instead of SCS implantation. At their follow-up after two years, only 6 percent of the physical therapy patients felt that there was an improvement in their chronic back pain.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Before your doctor agrees to install a spinal cord stimulator, they will want to complete a comprehensive review of your medical history and medications that you are currently taking. In most cases, SCS is only recommended if you’ve experienced chronic pain for more than three months and alternative, less invasive therapies have failed to yield positive results.
Schedule an Appointment to Discuss a Spinal Cord Stimulator
Chronic back pain can be debilitating and interrupt your daily life. The placement of a spinal cord stimulator can provide relief and allow you to return to work, daily chores and the activities that bring you joy.
AllSpine Laser and Surgery Center offers cutting edge SCS procedures and devices to ensure we’re providing our patients with the best possible chronic pain reduction results. This procedure isn’t right for everyone. We strive to be honest with our patients and set realistic expectations regarding results. If you want to discuss SCS and learn how it might help you, schedule an appointment online or contact us at (770) 997-0600.