A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted device that sends low levels of electricity around the spinal cord to relieve pain.
Is this procedure the right one for you?
While everyone is different, patients who could benefit from this therapy have not experienced adequate pain relief with medications, less-invasive therapies, or previous surgeries. People who suffer with chronic pain in their back or legs are encouraged to consult with their physician about this solution.
“We often times recommend spinal cord stimulation to our patients who haven’t found meaningful relief from non-surgical pain treatment options or who are not good surgical candidates,” explains Christopher Annis, MD, at the Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Center (OSMC). “Many of our patients experience an improvement in their overall quality of life with a stimulator implant. They sleep better, have less pain and enjoy a reduction in pain medication.”
How Exactly Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Work?
A spinal cord stimulator changes the way a signal of pain is sent up the spinal cord to the brain. Impulses from the unit mask the pain signals traveling to the brain.
Stimulators consist of thin wires (the electrodes or “leads”) and a small, pacemaker-like battery pack (the pulse generator). The electrodes are placed within the epidural space, an area inside the body near the sac that holds the spinal fluid, spinal cord and nerves. The generator is placed just under the skin near the buttocks or flank. Physicians at OSMC undergo specialized training in interventional pain management, using ultrasound or x-ray guidance (sometimes both) to place the device in the body.
“The stimulation does not get rid of what’s causing the pain. It changes the way the brain perceives it. The therapy may use a fluttering sensation or gentle tingling to replace the pain. Some stimulators don’t cause any sensation at all,” says the doctor. Stimulation does not work for everyone. A “test drive” or trial period allows you to try it prior to implanting it within your body.
The amount of pain relief you feel is different for everyone, but the spinal cord stimulation therapy is considered successful if it reduces your pain by at least 50%.
You may be a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator if you recognize yourself in the list below:
● Chronic back, leg or arm pain with no relief from other therapies
● Ongoing back pain, especially after surgery
● Post-surgical pain
● Nerve-related pain (diabetic neuropathy and cancer-related neuropathy from radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy)
● Peripheral vascular disease
● Complex regional pain syndrome
● Pain after an amputation
● And other conditions
As with all procedures and treatments, your doctor will want to make sure that spinal cord stimulation is right for you. An evaluation of your physical condition, medication regime, and pain history will determine whether your goals of pain management are appropriate for the therapy. And, because most insurance companies require psychological screening to ensure disorders like depression or anxiety aren’t worsening your pain, your doctor will likely order a psychological screening along with X-rays, etc.
If you are experiencing back, neck, or other musculoskeletal pain, make an appointment at OSMC. OSMC’s pain management physicians include Dr. David Beatty, Dr. Gene Grove, Dr. Jonathan Schrock and Dr. Christopher Annis.