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Spinal Cord Stimulation versus Dorsal Root Ganglion Stimulation

Unlike acute pain that goes away when you heal, chronic pain sticks around for months or years. It’s relentless and often debilitating. If that sounds like a depressing situation, you’re right — studies show that chronic pain causes depression and anxiety in up to 50% of sufferers. And that’s a bad cycle to fall into because these mental disorders also exacerbate your pain. 

Before your condition spirals out of control, come see Dr. Jay M. Shah at SamWell Institute for Pain Management. He offers hope to people throughout New Jersey battling with pain that just won’t quit and won’t respond to conservative treatments. 

As a board-certified physician in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) as well as Pain Medicine, Dr. Shah specializes in the most advanced treatments such as minimally invasive lumbar decompression (MILD), Vertiflex Superion Interspinous spacer, and regenerative medicine (including platelet-rich plasma injections and stem cell therapy).

When you have chronic pain from nerve damage, pain after neck surgery, pain after back surgery, or other complex nerve pain from trauma Dr. Shah may recommend spinal cord stimulation or dorsal root ganglion stimulation. Here’s how they compare.

Spinal cord stimulation

When other interventional treatments haven’t worked, and surgery or repeat surgery isn’t an option, spinal cord stimulation goes straight to the source of your pain — your nerves. 

After a 7-day minimally invasive, temporary, and external trial procedure shows success with the device, Dr. Shah implants a small device in your body that emits a mild electrical current.  It is essentially a pacemaker for your pain. From that power source, which is typically placed in your lower flank region near your low back, a lead wire with electrodes carries the electrical stimulation to nerve fibers in the epidural space of your spinal cord. 

When activated by an external remote device that you control, the electrical current alters the pain messages being sent to your brain, and can actually help to heal those nerves over time so that they stop producing pain. One of the best parts about a spinal cord stimulator is that you actually get to start with a 1-week trial run with temporary wires and an external battery before you commit to a permanent implantation.

We consider the trial a success if you get at least 50% or more pain relief, and if it helps you get back to functioning normally again.

Conditions we treat with spinal cord stimulation

Chronic pain comes from many different conditions, and not all are good candidates for spinal cord stimulation. Here are some of the conditions that are most responsive to this treatment:

Dorsal root ganglion stimulator

At first glance, the dorsal root ganglion stimulator is very similar to the spinal cord stimulator: they’re both implanted in the same areas, they both have lead wires that send mild electrical currents to your nerves, they both change  the way your brain perceives pain, and they both start with a 7-day trial phase. 

The main difference between the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) stimulator and the spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is the target of their respective lead wires and placement of electrodes. The traditional SCS goes to the dorsal column or epidural space behind your spinal cord and affects nerves in a general area, which may be effective for large areas of pain ranging from your neck or back or also including pain radiating into your arms or legs.

But the DRG stimulator targets the dorsal root ganglion, a structure in your spine that is a bundle filled with sensory nerves. In this procedure, Dr. Shah can locate and target a specific nerve with much more precision than is possible with SCS, and this is extremely useful for focal areas of nerve-related pain.

This ultra-focused pain relief also resolves the issue of nonspecific stimulation that causes paresthesia, so you likely won’t feel any residual tingling, burning, pins and needles - the pain simply shuts off.

With its specificity, DRG stimulation is successful at relieving pain related to complex regional pain syndrome and post-amputation pain, sometimes called phantom pain. 

Choosing between SCS and DRG stimulators

Fortunately, making the decision between SCS and DRG stimulators isn't something you do alone. Dr. Shah meticulously evaluates your situation, listens to your chronic pain story, and takes into consideration your symptoms, age, other health conditions, activity goals, and past treatments, and your lifestyle.  Once a thorough evaluation is complete, he will choose the right therapy for your particular region of pain to provide an optimal outcome.

You can trust his years of experience and leadership in the field of pain management when it comes to choosing the best course of treatment for your chronic pain. To learn more about these pain-relieving procedures, call us at our Colonia or Livingston, New Jersey locations, or book your appointment online. We also offer telehealth visits if you’re unable or unwilling to come in for a face-to-face consultation at this time. 

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