What Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is an implantable device that treats chronic nerve pain in the back and neck. It works by disrupting the pain impulses sent from an injured nerve to the brain. This stops the pain signal from reaching the brain, which reduces or eliminates pain.
It can transform debilitating pain into manageable pain. For people with chronic pain, this can be life-changing.
How Does It Work?
A thin lead with electrodes along one end is inserted into the epidural space. The epidural space is between the vertebrae and spinal cord. The electrodes are placed near the root of the nerve that is responsible for the pain.
The lead is attached to a pulse generator which is implanted under the skin in the abdomen or back. The pulse generator delivers gentle electrical pulses to the affected nerve through the lead. The pulses interrupt the transmission of pain signals to the brain. Reducing the signals reduces the pain.
The implantable pulse generator is operated by remote control and charged wirelessly.
What Does It Treat?
Spinal cord stimulators have FDA approval to treat pain caused by damaged or dysfunctional nerves of the body, arms, or legs, including:
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Surgical complications
- Postherpetic neuralgia
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
The first step to using a spinal cord stimulator is a trial period to determine if it’s the right solution for your pain. If you get adequate pain relief during the trial phase, you may then have an implantable pulse generator placed permanently.
The lead is inserted into the epidural space during the trial phase, but the pulse generator is not implanted. Instead, you’ll “wear” it outside your body. Your doctor will program the pulse generator and instruct you how to use the remote control to change the programming.
During the trial, you may adjust the programming under the guidance of your doctor or another trained specialist who will work with you to determine the best setting for your pain relief.
Surgical implantation is done in an outpatient surgery center under sedation.
The permanent electrodes are inserted the same way the trial ones were, but the pulse generator is implanted under the skin in the abdomen or back. It is about the size of a deck of cards and contains a battery, similar to a pacemaker.
When you’re cleared to go home (the same day), you will have instructions to avoid stretching or twisting and to restrict your activities for at least two weeks.
As with any surgical procedure, there are risks associated with spinal cord stimulators. Severe complications are rare.
Risks Related to the Implant Procedure
- Anesthesia associated risks
- Blood clots, hematoma, seroma (fluid buildup)
- Epidural hemorrhage
- Intracranial hypotension
- Lead movement
- Leaking cerebrospinal fluid
- Need for future surgery to adjust the placement of the pulse generator or lead
- Pain at the implant site
- Poor wound healing
- Pressure on or injury to the spinal cord, nerve, or nerve root
Risks Related to the Spinal Stimulation
- Increased pain
- Ineffective pain relief
- Tingling or prickling
- Weakness, numbness, clumsiness
Chronic pain affects every area of your life, from mobility to relationships. If you think a spinal cord stimulator may be right for you, schedule a consultation visit today.