Treating Your Chronic Back Pain With a Spinal Stimulator
By Dr. JM Paterno
We understand how frustrating it feels to be trapped by chronic back pain, unable to live the life you want to live.
But we’re here to say that even though the pain is inevitable, your suffering is optional, and we’re here to help you find the relief you need to get back to living a normal and even exciting life.
Though there are many options to help you treat chronic back pain, spinal stimulators are more frequently becoming the treatment of choice.
Spinal stimulators have been around for decades, but in the past few years, the amount of research, testing, and optimization poured into spinal stimulator therapies has risen dramatically. The body of knowledge encompassing our understanding of how spinal stimulation modulates nerve function is rapidly growing.
More importantly, more patients every year are experiencing high levels of success and relief. Even our founder, Dr. Mark Malone, found relief from his chronic back pain with his spinal stimulator. If it could be successful for him and thousands of others, then it could be successful for you too. We’re going to lay out precisely what a stimulator is, how you’ll find chronic back pain relief with a stimulator, and help you determine if you’re the right candidate for treatment.
What Is A Spinal Stimulator And When Is It Used?
A spinal stimulator is a unique implantable device used to treat various forms of chronic pain, including lower back and extremity pain. Back pain has many causes including aging, arthritis, structural, traumatic, or post-surgical issues where the nerves have become damaged or function abnormally. Overall, the device helps to normalize dysfunctional painful nerve signalling allowing us to relieve pain and improve a patient’s quality of life.
The spinal stimulator is a small device that consists of thin flexible medical wires (“leads”) and a small pacemaker-like battery. The electrode leads are inserted in a specific region of the spinal column (the epidural space), and the battery is placed under the skin in an area of the back or buttocks chosen by the patient.
Spinal stimulation is a treatment recommended when other conservative options have been performed and are unsuccessful or have not provided long-lasting relief — treatments such as physical therapy, injections, or even surgery.
For patients who have been told that spinal surgery would be high risk or only have a moderate chance of success, spinal stimulation may be a reasonable alternative.
Related: Understanding Spinal Cord Stimulation
What Is The Spinal Stimulator Procedure?
A trial or “test drive” period of seven days is used to assess if spinal stimulation is a viable treatment for you.
Phase 1: Trial
The initial trial procedure is a non-surgical procedure performed through a special needle. While sedated, your physician will guide the thin flexible wires into a safe space (the epidural space) within the spinal column. The leads are connected to an external battery which you control. Together, you work with your physician and stimulator team to find the right stimulation programming for your pain.
The electrical signals that are transmitted to your spinal cord help to normalize nerve signalling travelling from your back, buttocks, and legs. If the trial is successful, we plan for phase two, the implant procedure.
Phase 2: Implant Procedure
The implant procedure is a minor surgical procedure. While under anesthesia, your physician will insert the medical leads in the same location as the trial. However, now the leads are connected to a small pacemaker-like battery which is then secured underneath the skin and fat of the low back or buttock region. The specific battery location is carefully chosen by the patient and physician to not interfere with the patient’s comfort and regular life activities.
After the implant, you go straight into recovery to go home the same day!
You are also given a small wireless remote with programs to change the stimulation you receive for different activities. The remote allows you to tailor the stimulation for your unique needs. For example, you may need a different level and type of stimulation while you sleep versus when you’re walking or sitting. The customization ultimately allows you to find the level of pain relief you need to live the life you want.
What Should You Take Into Account Before Getting a Spinal Stimulator?
Before diving straight into a spinal stimulator procedure, there are many considerations that you need to take into account with your physician.
The first step to take is to schedule a consultation with your pain specialist so they can help you evaluate your medical history. They will help you determine if you’re a good candidate for the procedure, or if you should try other options first.
During your evaluation, your doctor will talk about your:
- Medical history
- Past and current medications you’re taking
- Prior therapies, injections, or surgeries tried
- Findings on recent imaging
- Severity of pain and functional status
- Expectations for pain relief and functional goals
Together you and your physician will take everything into account and determine if you’re the right candidate for spinal stimulation therapy.
Thus, it’s imperative that you speak with your physician to get a professional consultation to help you make the best decision for your chronic pain in the best and safest way possible.
Related: Understanding Pain: What Your Body is Trying to Tell You
Healing Chronic Back Pain And Leading An Active Life With A Spinal Stimulator
When you’re living in chronic pain, sometimes the smallest things are the largest wins.
Like being able to stand and walk for more extended periods, or going grocery shopping and cooking for yourself. Playing with your kids and your pets, or even getting a good night’s sleep is considered a massive success in our book.
The spinal stimulator can help you regain some aspect of your life that you want to enjoy again. Even if your goals seem simple, we get that it’s a big deal. That’s why we believe that if you’re the right candidate, the spinal cord stimulator can make a huge impact on your pain and an even more significant impact on your life.
Spinal stimulation therapy is a rapidly growing field that is seeing more success for the right candidates. And as more research helps optimize the technology, surgery, and programs, the therapy is only getting better, and more people are experiencing the relief you may be looking for.
To see if you’re the right fit for a spinal cord stimulator trial and implant, book an appointment with one of our pain care specialists to help you find the pain relief you need to live the fulfilled life you deserve.