A spinal cord stimulator is a medical device that can help control chronic pain. A spine specialist will determine if you are a good fit for the treatment, and if so, implant the device to provide relief from your symptoms. This blog post will answer common questions about spinal cord stimulators and the procedure itself: who should be considered for this type of treatment, what happens during surgery, and how it works.
What is a spinal cord stimulator, and how does it work?
The spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a small battery-operated device implanted in the body (usually around the abdomen or lower back) to help regulate chronic pain. The stimulator comprises an implanted generator that delivers mild electrical signals and thin wires (called electrodes) to the spine. Two electrodes are then placed in the space between the vertebrae and spinal cord. When turned on, the stimulator sends electrical impulses through these electrodes, thus blocking pain signals from reaching the brain. The SCS is controlled using a remote device that works outside the body.
Who can benefit from a spinal cord stimulator?
Spinal cord stimulator therapy is a treatment for joint pain treatment that medications cannot manage. This device is also used to treat back, leg pain, and pain related to nerve damage. The therapy is best when you know the source of the pain, which can include conditions such as:
- Pain that persists after an amputation
- Back pain, in particular, persistent back pain that persists even after surgery
- Heart pain that is not responding to other treatments
- Spinal cord injuries
What are the risks of having surgery for chronic pain management with a spinal cord stimulator
The risks that come with surgery include the possibility of infection or bleeding. Most patients do not experience these complications, but they can occur in some cases. Some of the risks are:
- Infections and experiencing paralysis
- Battery leakage
- Leakage of cerebrospinal fluid
- Allergic reactions to the spinal cord stimulator’s materials
- Below the implantation site, there may be weakness, clumsiness, numbness, or pain.
Is a spinal cord stimulator right for me?
Since this is an implantable device, you need to be sure that you are ready for surgery. Your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the treatment with you before proceeding with the procedure. A trial period can also help determine whether or not you are a good fit for the spinal cord stimulator. This trial period gives you a chance to wear the device and test whether it relieves your pain without any negative effects. It also allows you to adjust the stimulation levels if necessary.
How do I prepare for spinal cord stimulator therapy?
Depending on your preferences, your doctor may ask you to fast for 8 hours before the procedure. You’ll also need to inform your healthcare provider of any medications or supplements you are taking so that these can be discontinued. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking aspirin or ibuprofen at least one week before surgery. You’ll also need to arrange for someone to drive you home after the procedure.
How does the spinal cord stimulator treatment take place?
The entire operation takes 1-2 hours and is done under either general anesthesia or spinal anesthesia.
During the procedure, an epidural catheter (a thin tube) is temporarily inserted into your back to deliver the medication that will numb you from the waist down during surgery. A small incision is then made in the middle of your back then the surgeon begins positioning the electrodes based on where you feel pain and which nerves are carrying that sensation to your brain. They may also reposition the electrodes if they aren’t positioned as needed.
After that, a small pocket is created under your skin to hold the stimulator and its battery pack. The battery pack is then placed in the pocket, and the incisions are closed with dissolvable sutures.
How is recovery from spinal cord stimulator treatment?
After recovery, you will need to remain at the hospital for several hours until your body becomes used to being awake after being under anesthesia. This usually takes 2-3 hours. During this time, you will need to lie flat and avoid any movement.
After that, your doctor will help you out of bed and keep a close eye on how well your legs feel and work as they adjust to having the surgery. They may instruct you not to put any weight down on your legs for several hours to speed up the healing process.