What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?
A Spinal Cord Stimulator is an advanced implantable device that can be used to interrupt or mask painful signals coming from the body on their way to the brain. Spinal Cord Stimulation can be thought of as a white noise machine for pain – it drowns out painful signals along certain neural pathways using wires that are placed inside the bony spine into the epidural space.
Am I a candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal Cord Stimulation is an option for patients with chronic and severe nerve pain that have not responded to other treatment modalities. It is most commonly used in patients who have had spine surgery and continue to have chronic back/neck and/or arm/leg pain. It has been shown to be as effective as repeat surgery in patients, and is much less invasive. It is also an excellent treatment for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which is a type of chronic nerve pain typically affecting a particular extremity. It has been studied in a variety of conditions, and your doctor may discuss this as a treatment option
How do I know if Spinal Cord Stimulation is for me?
Spinal Cord Stimulation is a two-stage procedure, and the first stage is really the most important as it determines whether or not the procedure works for you. The first stage is the trial phase, during which a temporary stimulator wire is placed into the spine. After placement, it is connected to an external battery that is worn on the belt during the trial period, typically 3-7 days. During the trial period you will have the opportunity to test the system to find out if it works for you.
How is the trial procedure performed?
The trial procedure is performed in an operating room with an anesthesiologist to provide sedation as needed. The procedure itself is very much like having an epidural steroid injection, which many patients have experienced before. The only difference is that instead of injecting medications into the epidural space, a wire is inserted instead. After the wire is inserted, your doctor and the representative from the stimulator manufacturer will talk to you to make sure that the stimulation covers your painful areas. Sometimes this will require some adjustments of the wires, but this is typically not painful.
What should I expect during the trial period?
During the trial, you will assess if this is a therapy that improves your pain and allows you to more comfortably perform your daily activities. You will be given extensive instructions on the day of the trial on the restrictions and goals of the trial. In addition, you will be in constant communication with the representative from the device manufacturer, who will answer any questions and troubleshoot any issues that may arise. This may require meeting in person at a mutually convenient location, typically the doctor’s office or a nearby hospital or surgical center.
Can I control the stimulation?
Yes, you can control the stimulation very much like you can control your television at home. You will be given a remote control that allows you to turn the device on or off, increase or decrease the intensity (volume) of the stimulation, and choose amongst several programs (channels) that are customized for you by the doctor and representative from the manufacturer.