What is a spinal cord stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted device that helps people suffering from symptoms of a wide range of conditions manage the pain and increase activity. This can be especially helpful for people trapped in a cycle of worsening pain and associated mental health problems. By finding sufficient relief to engage in daily activities and complete other treatments like physical therapy, affected patients can increase their overall health and achieve long-term relief.
Take some time to read this quick guide prepared by the USA Spine Care Team for a better understanding of what a spinal cord stimulator is. You can also learn more about how it works and how pain specialists, physicians and surgeons implant them. We’re here to help and welcome you to reach out at any time if you have questions or would like to learn more.
Primary features of a spinal cord stimulator
The main features of a spinal cord stimulator are a battery pack or generator, small thin wires attached to electrodes and a control device. The generator sends a gentle electrical pulse through the wires to the electrodes that are usually attached to the epidural space directly around the spinal cord. The implanted device can receive a signal from the external controller that the patient uses to control the pulses.
What is a spinal cord stimulator used for?
Spinal cord stimulators can treat pain related to a number of conditions. This includes chronic back pain caused by a spinal cord injury or degenerative condition like a bulging or herniated disc. Another common condition stimulators can help with is arachnoiditis, which is painful inflammation of the arachnoid membrane that surrounds the spinal cord. Spinal cord stimulators are often commonly used to relieve pain and complications associated with an unsuccessful back surgery, especially when a follow-up procedure is undesired or not viable.
Additionally, spine stimulators can relieve a number of non spine-related sources of chronic pain, including diabetic neuropathy, cardiovascular pain such as angina, complex regional pain syndrome and even abdominal pains. This is because the spinal cord is the primary conduit of the nervous system and controls how pain signals reach the brain.
How does a spinal cord stimulator help patients with chronic symptoms manage the pain?
Medical researchers are still working to fully understand how spinal cord stimulators relieve pain, but there is growing evidence that it is effective. The most common theory is that the electrical impulses disrupt pain signals, essentially confusing the brain. Many patients report a gentle tingling sensation that replaces the sensation of pain. By overriding the symptoms, people with spinal cord stimulators are generally able to manage the pain more effectively.
Specific chronic pain symptoms a spinal cord stimulator can help with include:
- Shooting pain
- Numbness and pins and needles sensations
- Muscle aches
- Burning sensations
Spinal stimulation therapy can also help patients get the exercise and therapy needed to overcome other issues like muscle weakness and fatigue. It can also improve sleep quality, which is a key factor in successful pain management.
What types of pain specialists can implant spinal cord stimulators?
Patients can find out about spinal cord stimulators through a variety of methods, from independent research, to working with their primary care physician or a pain specialist. Although spinal cord stimulator procedures are even less involved than other minimally invasive spine procedures, they are still typically performed by experienced spinal surgeons.
When meeting with a surgeon to determine if you are a potential candidate for a spinal cord stimulator, expect a review of your medical and treatment history including diagnostic imagery and a thorough discussion of your symptoms and how they’re affecting your lifestyle.
How do I find out if a spinal cord stimulator is right for me?
If a surgeon or other pain specialist determines you may benefit from a spinal cord stimulator, the next step is a trial period. This involves a very minor procedure to attach the electrodes near the spinal cord without implanting the generator. Instead, the lead wires are connected to an external device.
Patients are then given instructions on adjusting the impulses and asked to record symptom relief as they go through their day. The surgeon can then use this information to work with the patient to decide if a permanent implanted device would offer lasting pain relief.
What is a spinal cord stimulator procedure typically like for patients?
Spinal cord stimulator surgery is a relatively short, outpatient procedure. Often, it is performed at an ambulatory surgery center, helping patients avoid hospital-associated costs and infection risks. In this procedure, the surgeon will use X-ray guidance to permanently attach the electrodes and carefully tunnel the wiring under the skin. Then, using a small incision and muscle-sparing techniques, he or she will place the generator. Common locations include the lower back near the buttocks and the abdomen.
Upon recovery, the treatment team will then provide thorough instructions for the rehabilitation timeline and safe operation of the spinal cord stimulator.
Get more information on spinal cord stimulator procedures today
USA Spine Care has a highly skilled and experienced team committed to helping patients overcome chronic pain. Our spinal cord stimulator procedures are performed at our state-of-the-art outpatient centers with a streamlined patient experience designed for your comfort and convenience. To learn more about becoming a candidate for one of our procedures, contact us today.
Call toll free 1-866-249-1627.