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What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
Electrical nerve stimulation or spinal cord stimulation is a procedure that uses a small electrical pulse generator to deliver currents to treat chronic pain in the spinal cord. These pulses reduce pain by interfering with the nerve that is sending pain signals, causing you to feel pain, and is usually only used when other treatments for pain have failed to provide relief. Peripheral nerve stimulation (PNS) and spinal cord stimulation (SCS) are two types of electrical nerve stimulation. In either, a small pulse generator sends electrical pulses to the nerves (in peripheral nerve stimulation) or to the spinal cord (in spinal cord stimulation). While spinal cord stimulators are effective for most people, they aren’t actually considered a treatment in the traditional sense (as they are simply a tool for managing chronic pain).
Spinal cord stimulators help manage pain when other treatments have failed to provide relief for chronic pain symptoms, and can often reduce pain symptoms anywhere from 50-70%. Patients that usually elect to have this type of procedure have chronic pain in the back and legs, and have dealt with this pain for at least a year.
A spinal cord stimulator can help control pain symptoms due to the following conditions:
Chronic leg pain (sciatica) or arm pain
Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
Failed back surgery syndrome
Degenerative disc disease
Peripheral vascular disease
Spinal cord injury
Nerve root compression
How is it done?
Nerve stimulation is done in two steps. First, the patient will undergo a trial period to see if the treatment will help your pain. Your doctor will insert a temporary electrode through the skin (percutaneously) to give the treatment a trial run. The electrode is connected to a stimulator that the patient can control. If the trial is successful, your doctor can implant a permanent stimulator under your skin. This is typically done using a local anesthetic and a sedative. The stimulator itself is implanted under the skin and the small coated wires (leads) are inserted under the skin to the point where they are either connected to nerves or inserted into the spinal canal.
What should I expect?
You will have a small incision that you should keep clean and dry until it heals. After this outpatient procedure is complete, you and your doctor determine the best pulse strength. The procedure consists of two phases: placement of the lead in the spinal cord or epidural space and implantation of the pulse generator in the abdomen of the buttock. Nothing will be visible on the body, as the wires are connected under the skin.
You are then told how to use the stimulator at home. A typical schedule for spinal cord stimulation is to use it for 1 or 2 hours, 3 or 4 times a day. When in use, electrical nerve stimulation creates a tingling feeling. Strength and duration of the spinal cord stimulator is completely controlled by the patient using the handheld programmer. When it is turned on, the pulse generator sends a current to the nerve fibers through the small wires, replacing the pain sensation with a more pleasant one called paresthesia. This is often described as a mild tingling sensation.
The most critical step on the path to recovery is finding a pain management doctor who can address your pain management needs successfully. The Pain Relief Center and its five specialized institutes are dedicated to meeting any and all of a patient’s needs. Located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Dr. Rodriguez and his friendly staff will help you along the path to recovery.
Our new center in Dallas is part of a nationwide development by Pain Relief Centers, geared to providing individualized and comprehensive healing and pain management services with unprecedented levels of compassion, care, and comfort for each patient.