Spinal Cord Stimulator: What You Need to Know
If the chronic pain in your back (or neck) prompted you to search online for a suitable treatment, you might have come across results for a Spinal Cord Stimulator. It’s important to know if it may be suited for your condition. To help you with this, we’ve listed everything you should know about Spinal Cord Stimulation. Let’s first begin with the basic understanding of what it is and how it works.
A spinal cord stimulator (also known as SCS) is a remotely controlled device that treats or manages different types of chronic pain by sending a low-level electrical current to the brain to manipulate pain sensations. It is surgically implanted near the abdomen/hip area. Its components include thin wires, known as electrodes, and a pacemaker battery – the generator. Electrodes carry currents from the generator to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord where the painful area is targeted by the mild currents. Unlike the traditional stimulators that gave unpleasant pricking sensations (paresthesia), the modern-day SCS device uses sub-perception sensations that make the patients feel comfortable.
Who Should Get A Spinal Cord Stimulator?
To determine whether a spinal cord stimulator implant is suitable for you, your doctor might run a physical examination or diagnosis through an imaging test like MRI or CT scan. However, there are certain pain conditions generally managed by SCS such as:
- Pain from nerve damage
- Spinal cord injuries
- Diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage caused by diabetes)
- Heart Pain (Angina)
- Failed Back Surgery
- Post-surgical Pain
- Arachnoiditis – Inflammation of one of the membranes surrounding the spinal cord nerves.
- Peripheral Vascular Disease – Reduced flow of blood to the limbs due to narrowed blood vessels.
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – Chronic pain in limbs after surgeries, cardiac arrest, or an injury.
In addition to these, you may be recommended Spinal Cord Stimulation if medications or minimally invasive procedures have failed to provide you pain relief.
Generally, there are two types of Spinal Cord Stimulators:
- Non-rechargeable Stimulator (or Implantable Pulse Generator (IPG)) – This is the conventional type of stimulator that requires surgical placement. Here, the battery implanted in the spine needs to be replaced after a certain period. Since it provides low-frequency currents, it may be suitable for patients with pain in just one body part.
- Rechargeable IPG – The mechanism of this device is similar to the non-rechargeable one yet, the battery it uses can be recharged without the need for another surgery. Its electrical signals reach further areas of the body such as the lower back and legs.
Apart from spinal cord stimulation, certain other neuromodulation therapies like Dorsal Root Ganglion Stimulation are also quite effective in treating pain conditions.
Dorsal Root Ganglion (DRG) Stimulation Therapy
Some chronic pains in the lower body can be difficult to manage. The pain specialists at Advanced Pain Care recommend treating such conditions with a special neurostimulation therapy, known as the Dorsal Root Ganglion (DRG) Stimulation. It reduces pain by stimulating dorsal root ganglia – the sensory nerves located along the spinal column. There are many such structures, each connected to a different part of the body. This stimulation therapy targets one of the DRGs that is causing pain in a particular region, thereby relieving the patient from prolonged discomfort.
DRG therapy may be recommended to you if:
- The conventional procedure of neurostimulation fails to offer you pain relief.
- A lower body part like your foot, knee, hip, or groin is experiencing pain after an injury or surgery.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery
Let’s now dive into the steps involved in the spinal cord stimulation procedure.
Types of SCS Surgery & their Treatment Procedure:
There are two important stages in this therapy:
- The Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial – Before performing the actual surgery, our doctors will opt for a 7-day trial phase with you. This is a non-surgical procedure and requires only a needle and external battery control. Our specialists will first sedate your area of pain and direct the electrodes into the epidural space within the spinal column. The electrical signals will aim at stabilizing the pain in your back/ lower body. Your positive response to the trial will confirm its success and preparations will be made for the final stimulation implant.
- Spinal Cord Stimulator Implantation – This is a minor surgery that places the SCS device in your body under the effect of anesthesia. The electrodes will be targeted to the same area as the trial and now, the pacemaker-like battery will be implanted under the skin of the lower back or buttock region. You will be kept under observation for some time post-surgery, after which you can go home the same day. You’ll be given a small wireless remote to control the stimulation while you perform different activities.
Associated Risks of Spinal Cord Stimulators
Although complications with Spinal Cord Stimulator are rare, some possible risks may include:
- Dislocation of the SCS device, requiring immediate medical attention
- Potential damage to the device due to a fall or injury
- Infections or bleeding that may occur during the surgical procedure
- Piercing of the dura mater (outermost membrane protecting the brain and spinal cord) by the needle or electrodes
- Nerve Injury/Paralysis
Our experienced specialists make sure that no such problems arise during the implantation, and take full responsibility of the implantation process with the utmost care.
Post-Surgery Recovery Process
Spinal Cord Stimulation is an outpatient surgery, so you can leave the center as soon as the effect of anesthesia wears off. All the important post-surgery instructions will be provided to ensure safe pain management. For 2 to 4 weeks, you’ll need to pay special attention to your body movements to maintain the integrity of the incision sites while healing. For the complete recovery period of 6 to 8 weeks, you will be advised to indulge in light activities only. Frequent follow-ups will be scheduled with your physician to check on the frequency of stimulation, pulse width and amplitude, the threshold of the pain perception, etc. This surgery is a reversible process and if required, the neurostimulator can be removed without any harm to the spine or nerves.
This SCS offers a normal and pain-free life. In fact, 9 out of 10 patients successfully live a happy and active lifestyle with a spinal cord stimulator, without relying on pain medication.
Spinal Cord Stimulation at Advanced Pain Care, Texas
With extensive experience and knowledge, the pain and neurosurgery specialists at Advanced Pain Care have been helping thousands of spinal pain patients for almost 20 years now. We are the best pain management center in the state of Texas that specializes in spinal cord stimulation surgery. We are equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and implement proven medical procedures for effective treatment. Depending on your condition, we consider all possible surgical/ non-surgical procedures to effectively manage your pain. Read more about SCS costs & procedures here, or call our mainline phone number – 512-244-4272.
Mark T. Malone, M.D., is a Board Certified pain specialist and a native Texan. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin, and went on to attend the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. Dr. Malone attended Baylor College of Medicine… View Profile