With an estimated 50,000 spinal cord stimulators implanted every year, this safe treatment is rapidly becoming a preferred option for relieving pain. It’s also widely used to give patients the chance to reduce or stop medications.
At SamWell Institute for Pain Management, we specialize in interventional therapies that effectively relieve chronic back pain, which includes spinal cord stimulation. When conservative therapies don’t deliver the relief you need, it’s time to call one of our two offices so we can help you get back to an active life.
Here’s all the information you need to get an idea about what spinal cord stimulation is and how it works.
Understanding how spinal stimulation works
A spinal cord stimulator is a medical device that relieves back pain using mild electrical stimulation. This process, called neurostimulation, alters nerve activity, either blocking or masking the nerve signals sending pain messages to your brain.
When you experience pain, sensory receptors near the source of the pain send the message through a nerve to your spine. Then the nerve carries the pain signal up the spine to your brain. After your brain receives the nerve transmission, it interprets the message and tells you to feel the pain.
If your brain never gets the message, you can’t feel the pain even if the source of the pain still exists. That’s how spinal cord stimulation works. It interrupts the message by blocking nerve signals. It doesn’t cure the source of the problem, but you’re no longer limited by the pain.
How a spinal cord stimulator is implanted in your body
Spinal cord stimulators contain three components. The first piece is a small pulse generator, which holds the battery that sends out the electrical current. We implant the generator under your skin in an area that’s comfortable for you.
To place the second component, a flexible wire with multiple leads, we make an incision and use fluoroscopic imaging to gently guide the wire along the side of your spine, threading it upward until it’s in a position where the leads can target the nerves carrying your pain signals. Then we connect the wire to the generator.
The final piece is a remote control that turns the generator on and off. We also use the controller to program the frequency and strength of the electrical impulses. When all the components are in place and the generator is turned on, the electrical impulses block or mask signals traveling along the targeted nerves.
You try out the spinal cord stimulator before we implant the generator. We insert the leads and you wear the generator around your waist for about a week, giving the stimulator a test run to see if it effectively relieves your pain.
If your trial is successful, we can implant the generator. But if you weren’t satisfied with the pain relief achieved with the spinal cord stimulator, we can remove the wires without causing any harm to your spinal cord.
Realistic pain-relief goals when using a spinal cord stimulator
Although spinal cord stimulators are effective, each patient is different. Your trial may not be successful, but some patients achieve nearly complete pain relief.
The goal is to reduce your back pain enough that you can become more active and stay engaged in your daily activities without disabling pain. With spinal cord stimulation, our patients are also able to reduce the dose of or to stop using pain medications.
We may recommend spinal cord stimulation to relieve chronic back pain caused by many conditions, including:
- Herniated disc
- Slipped disc
- Disc degeneration
- Failed back surgery
- Spinal stenosis (narrowed spinal canal)
Neurostimulation is also not the first line of treatment. You’re considered for spinal cord stimulation when you meet the following criteria:
- Conservative therapies have failed to relieve your pain
- You wouldn’t benefit from surgery
- You don’t want surgery due to the risks
- You do not have a drug addiction
- You do not have untreated depression
- You don’t have any medical conditions that prevent implantation
It’s also important for you to have a successful trial before moving forward with this therapy.
If you’ve lived with back pain for too long or you want effective alternatives to medications, call us at SamWell Institute for Pain Management or use the online booking feature to schedule an appointment.