Has chronic pain made your life difficult or even unmanageable? Are you giving up the activities you love because you can’t seem to do them without pain? Have you tried conservative treatments, but nothing seems to work?
A spinal cord stimulator may be your best solution for chronic pain. This small, implanted device disrupts pain signals from your nerves to your brain. As a result, the recipient feels less pain.
So, how does a spinal cord stimulator work? Let’s start by acquiring a better understanding of your nervous system.
The nervous system is one of the most complicated bodily systems. After all, it is responsible for coordinating all of the communication between your brain and the rest of your body. Essentially, everything you do requires a collaborative effort with the different areas of your nervous system. Even involuntary actions like breathing, blood vessel dilation, and digesting foods require directives from the nervous system.
The nervous system consists of two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
Furthermore, the central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord. It is the control center of your entire body. Specifically, your spinal cord is a large bundle of nerves housed in the spinal column. The vertebrae that compose the spinal column contain openings where nerve roots branch out to innervate faraway areas of the body. These branching nerves are also known as the peripheral nervous system.
The PNS includes twelve pairs of cranial nerves that connect the brain to organs and muscles in the head and neck. In addition, 31 pairs of spinal nerves branch out from the spinal cord to the chest, trunk, and extremities. Each nerve relays sensory information to the brain or sends motor commands back to a specific area of the body.
Lightning-fast chemical and electrical signals course through your body constantly. It’s a complicated process, but let’s break it down a little bit. All nerves are composed of cells known as neurons. Neurons function to conduct electrical signals. These signals pass through the body at a staggering speed. As the signals reach the end of neurons, they stimulate the release of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These chemical signals then serve to regulate the muscles, organs, glands, and even nerve pathways themselves.
When something is not quite right with a person’s body, nearby neurons send pain signals to the brain. Pain can actually be very helpful. For example, if you touch a hot pan, you wouldn’t know to take your hand away unless you received an immediate burst of pain.
On the other hand, pain can completely change your life. Those who are dealing with chronic pain know that there is something wrong, but can’t seem to manage the symptoms of their condition.
Want to know something interesting?
You don’t actually feel pain until the message is successfully relayed to the brain. Of course, this may only take a split second, but the message needs to travel from the painful area—lower back, leg, arm, shoulder, etc.—to the brain to be processed.
A spinal cord stimulator can disrupt these pain signals, thus serving to relieve your pain. Let’s take a closer look at this unique device.
A spinal cord stimulator is a small electrical device implanted into your body—kind of like a pacemaker—to modulate and disrupt pain signals leading back to your brain. Generally, doctors use spinal cord stimulators to treat neuropathic pain. This type of pain is caused by nerve damage sustained after an accident, injury, or progressive disease. Spinal cord stimulation does not eliminate the source of pain (i.e. the damaged nerve). Instead, the device interferes with signals that convey the sensation of pain to the brain.
A spinal cord stimulator has three main components:
The pulse generator and leads are implanted into your body during a minimally invasive procedure. The leads are connected to nerves along the spinal cord. The pulse generator then delivers electrical currents in one of two ways:
Many devices offer both options, so you can choose which spinal cord stimulation works best for you.
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Using a spinal cord stimulator to manage chronic pain has a few advantages including:
How many procedures give you a week or so to try it out for effectiveness? More importantly, if you don’t feel the procedure is helping, you can easily return to normal.
Spinal cord stimulation offers two stages. The first is the trial period. Initially, the leads are placed through a needle adjacent to your spine. During this procedure, a local anesthetic numbs the area and keeps you relaxed.
Once the leads are placed, the doctor connects them to a pulse generator that remains outside of your body. After this outpatient procedure, you go about your normal routine and try out the device. If you use low-frequency stimulation, this trial period also determines your comfort level with the tingling (paresthesia) sensation.
If the spinal cord stimulator isn’t helping, the leads are then easily removed with little or no discomfort.
Conversely, if the spinal cord stimulator reduces symptoms, all you need is a minor surgical procedure to permanently implant the SCS device. It only takes a couple of small incisions to place the leads and device under the skin. After the surgery, you usually return home the same day. Some may have to stay overnight, however, depending on their condition.
Yet another advantage: complications and serious side effects from this surgery are rare. The most common issue is localized pain at the site of the incisions. As with any surgery, however, risks like infection, bleeding, and damage to surrounding tissues and nerves are possible. Also, lead and device migration in the body are possible. This may reduce the effectiveness of SCS.
After the procedure, many people return to light or modified levels of activity after a week or so. They may, however, have some restrictions with lifting, twisting, and bending until the leads heal in their designated position. This could take up to two months.
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Spinal cord stimulation is usually not the first option when treating chronic pain. In fact, some use it after a failed back surgery or other procedures because they don’t want to put their bodies through the hardships of another major surgery.
It’s important to note that SCS doesn’t work for everyone. It can, however, be a virtually risk-free option, thanks to the trial period and easy removal of the leads.
You may be a good candidate for a spinal cord stimulator if:
Chronic pain is a complex problem stemming from a variety of factors. For some, it may seem nearly impossible to treat. What if you had a team of specialists at your side ready to listen to your story, symptoms, and concerns? What if that team then used this information to create a treatment plan designed to get your quality of life back?
Our team at NJ Spine & Orthopedic has decades of experience in treating people just like you who wanted relief from their chronic pain. We’ve seen people at their worst. And, we’ve worked hard to help them get better.
Just looking for a little more information? How about trying our Treatment Finder tool? Answer a few simple questions and we can guide you toward a treatment plan that just may change your life.
Of course, if you struggle with chronic pain or just want a second opinion, calling (855) 586-2615 or filling out our contact form can start the dialog that leads to your recovery. Remember: You deserve only the best; so we offer only the best!
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