September 18, 2020
If you are one of the millions of American adults who suffers from chronic pain—or pain you have experienced most days for at least six months—an innovative, minimally invasive treatment called spinal cord stimulation could offer relief.
What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator and How Does it Work?
A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted device placed over your spinal cord that uses low level electricity to relieve pain. Your surgeon first implants a temporary device for you to test, followed by the permanent implant.
The spinal cord stimulator system consists of thin wires (electrodes) and a small pacemaker-like battery pack.
- The electrodes are placed in between the spinal cord and the vertebrae guided by X-ray technology.
- The small battery pack is placed under your skin, usually near the buttocks.
The implantation takes less than two hours and is typically performed by a specialist such as pain management physician or a neurosurgeon as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia.
Following the procedure, when you feel pain, you are able to send electrical impulses using a remote control. It is believed that the device targets several muscle groups directly from the spine and may even alter how the brain senses pain.
Candidates for Spinal Cord Stimulation
As with all medical treatments, your doctor will want to make sure that a spinal cord stimulator is right for you. To determine a good candidate, your doctor will review your medical history, imaging, and psychological screening.
Generally, good candidates are people who have not had sufficient pain relief from medications, injections or prior surgery, and do not have psychiatric disorders that could contribute to their pain.
Types of Pain Relieved by Spinal Cord Stimulation
A spinal cord stimulator may lessen chronic pain caused by:
- Chronic leg (sciatica) or arm pain
- Failed back surgery
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Chronic neuropathy
Risks and Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation
Published studies show that 50 to 60 percent of patients who undergo spinal cord stimulation enjoy long-term pain relief. The procedure can improve your overall quality of life and sleep, and reduce the need for pain medication.
Complications of spinal cord stimulator surgery are rare, but no procedure is without risk. A small percentage of people may experience bleeding, infection, blood clots, or reactions to anesthesia.
Patients are usually up and walking around the same day as the implant, although doctors recommend lighter activity for about two weeks as the incisions heal. Your doctor will schedule a follow-up visit at their office to check the incision, and if needed, make adjustments to the pulse generator programming.
An Effective Pain Management Tool
Spinal cord stimulation has helped thousands of people manage their pain and improve their quality of life.
The spine care team at Lancaster General Health performs this procedure. Request an appointment with our spine team.