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Spinal Cord Stimulation for Persistent Spinal Pain Syndrome After Surgery

Your spine is a complex system that relies on intricate anatomical parts working harmoniously within a very tight space. Countless nerves run in and out of your spinal column, sending messages to and from your brain so you can feel and function. Any abnormality, such as a misaligned vertebra, a bulging disc, a bone spur, scar tissue, or even inflammation can put pressure on these nerves and cause pain.

Depending on the underlying cause, certain necessary surgical procedures can alleviate a large proportion of your symptoms, but they sometimes still leave patients with residual nerve pain in the neck and arms as well as the back and legs. . In fact, up to 40% of back and neck surgery patients report ongoing pain — a condition known as failed back surgery, post-laminectomy pain ,  failed neck surgery, or persistent spinal pain syndrome. 

In these cases, more surgery isn’t always the answer. 

Dr. Jay M. Shah at SamWell Institute for Pain Management in Livingston and Colonia, New Jersey has a better solution, one that stops the pain with a minimally invasive procedure. Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) works to block the pain signals between your spine and your brain so you no longer suffer from persistent pain.

Why pain persists after surgery

Severe spinal pain can be debilitating and drastically lower your quality of life, which is likely the reason you opted to undergo surgery to resolve the problem. But if you still have ongoing pain even after your necessary surgical procedure, you’re understandably upset and frustrated. 

Unfortunately, failed back and neck surgeries aren’t uncommon. The three main reasons for your post-surgical persistent pain are:

  1. You incurred a new injury at the same operative site
  2. You have a buildup of scar tissue pressing on nerves
  3. Your nerves didn’t heal properly after your surgery

Whatever the cause, additional surgery isn’t always recommended without specific indications, as your risk of persistent pain can increase with repeated surgeries, leading to more pain.

How spinal cord stimulation stops persistent spinal pain

Persistent post-surgical pain can range from a nagging ache to a severe stabbing nerve pain with numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation. It can also cause stiffness and significantly reduce your range of motion. You may even experience pain that radiates down your leg or arm. 

To alleviate those symptoms, Dr. Shah may recommend targeted epidural steroid injections, a nerve block, or radiofrequency ablation, but those treatments in this instance may provide temporary relief for months to years. If you need longer-lasting pain relief, SCS may be the best treatment to treat your pain long term.

SCS is a device that delivers precise doses of low-voltage electrical currents along your spinal cord to block the pain signals. Under direct image guidance, Dr. Shah places small electrical leads near the nerves that are causing pain in your neck or back. These leads are connected to a device that generates gentle pulses of electrical energy that significantly reduces your pain The SCS procedure requires two phases.

1. Trial phase

Before implanting the SCS device for long-term pain relief, Dr. Shah performs a week-long trial phase to make sure you’re a good candidate for this treatment. Through an image guided and non-surgical trial procedure, he places the electrical leads into the epidural space in your back using a special type of X-ray called fluoroscopy to guide him to visualize the procedure.

The leads are connected to an external generator you wear on a belt for the next seven days. During this time, you assess your pain level as the electrical impulses travel along your spine and interrupt the pain signals to your brain. If you report a pain reduction of at least 50%, you’re considered a good candidate for SCS.  

2. Implantation phase

If your trial phase proves successful, Dr. Shah utilizes a minimally invasive technique and implants the external generator under the skin of your low back region. The device is about the size of a matchbox and resembles a small pacemaker. He replaces the electrical leads used during your trial phase with new, sterile leads that he anchors with sutures into position so that they never move.

You may have minor discomfort for a few days as your incisions heal, but your neck or back pain should respond immediately to the electrical stimulation, providing relief.

Dorsal root ganglion stimulation

If you’re suffering from failed back or neck surgery syndrome, you may also benefit from dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulation. This procedure is similar to SCS, but it targets a specific group of nerves called the dorsal root ganglion. Every section of your spine contains a bundle of DRG nerves, and they act like a traffic light that regulates if and when certain sensations are allowed to enter your spinal cord. 

DRG stimulation targets these precise nerve bundles and gives a “red light” to stop pain from entering your spinal cord and traveling to your brain. 

To find out if SCS or DRG stimulation could be the solution to your neck or back pain, schedule a consultation with Dr. Shah by calling 732-276-2494 or by booking online today. 

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