Spinal Cord Stimulators

What are spinal cord stimulators?

Spinal cord stimulators have changed the lives of patients who suffer from persistent pain in their trunks and limbs. The spinal cord stimulator treatment option helps relieve intense pain, allowing patients to enjoy life once again.

A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted electronic device used to help treat chronic pain. It consists of an electric lead (or wire) placed beside the spinal cord. The wire is connected to a generator that produces a computer-controlled electrical signal. These low-voltage electrical signals prevent messages of pain from reaching the brain.

Where is the spinal cord stimulator implanted?

The spinal cord stimulator system is usually implanted in the back. It includes a pulse generator which is powered by a battery. Signals are sent from the generator to electrodes located at the end of an insulated wire called a lead. The lead is implanted in the spinal column near the nerves that correspond to the patient’s area of pain.

How does the spinal cord stimulator work?

Spinal cord stimulators use low-voltage stimulation to block the pain signal to the brain. The small generator, which is implanted in the body, transmits an electrical current to the spinal cord resulting in a tingling sensation rather than pain. The amplitude strength and rate of the electronic pulse of a spinal cord stimulator are set via radio waves from an external programmer. There are now rechargeable spinal cord stimulators that may last
up to 10 years.

How will the spinal cord stimulator make me feel?

With a spinal cord stimulator, instead of pain, patients feel a tingling sensation that covers the area of the pain. You will be able to adjust the strength of the electrical stimulation with the external device.

Who is a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator implant?

Spinal cord stimulator implants are most effective when a patient is suffering from neuropathy pain. This is pain that results from damage to parts of the nervous system including nerves, the spinal cord, and/or the brain. The pain is usually described as electric, shooting, or burning. Examples of this type of pain include sciatic nerve pain, back or leg pain after back surgery, neck or arm pain after cervical spine surgery, shingles virus, diabetic nerve pain (burning pain in the legs with diabetes), phantom pain after amputation, and a pain problem called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (or Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome).

There are several conditions that would not allow you to be considered for the spinal cord stimulator. These include but are not limited to:

  • Pacemakers, cardioverter defibrillators
  • Blood thinners that are unable to be discontinued for a short period of time
  • Active infection
  • Significant psychological problems
  • Failure of initial stimulator trial

How do I know if the spinal cord stimulator implant will work for me?

Before a spinal cord stimulator is implanted, patients participate in a spinal cord stimulator trial screening to determine if the treatment will be effective for them. One or two leads are inserted into the epidural space next to the spinal cord. You are able to turn off, on, and adjust the strength of the electrical stimulation from the external device. You should feel a tingling sensation that covers the area of your pain. The spinal cord stimulator trial usually lasts three to five days. If the treatment helps lessen the pain and improves functioning, the patient can then elect to have the spinal cord stimulator permanently implanted.

What are the benefits of a spinal cord stimulator?

Because spinal cord stimulators work in the area where pain signals travel, electrical impulses can be directed to specific sites. This makes them effective at providing pain relief and decreases the need for pain medications. Spinal cord stimulators may also help prevent surgery. Typically, patients who have success with spinal cord stimulators experience a 50% or greater reduction in their pain and improve their ability to perform daily activities.

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