Is Spinal Cord Stimulation the Answer to Your Chronic Back Pain?

Pain is an important part of life. It alerts us to danger, teaches us about our environment, and makes us instinctively protect ourselves. But, after serving its purpose, or when the stimulus goes away, the pain should subside. If it doesn’t, you may need to explore next-level pain relief.

Back pain that lasts three months or longer is considered chronic, and this kind of pain can interfere with your job, your family time, your favorite activities, and even your sleep. When medications, physical therapy, and other conventional treatments don’t relieve the pain, you may be a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation (SCS).

Here at CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center, with multiple locations in Maryland, our pain management specialists offer spinal cord stimulation to patients who suffer from chronic back pain and complex regional pain syndrome. Here’s what you need to know.

What is spinal cord stimulation?

The purpose of a spinal cord stimulator is to block the pain signals the nerves in your back are sending to your brain. To accomplish this, we implant a small device under your skin either in your buttocks, flank area, or abdomen. 

The implanted generator is fitted with electrodes. We position these long, thin wires in a targeted area in your epidural space between your vertebrae and spinal cord. 

Once activated, the SCS generator emits low-level electrical impulses that alter the way your brain perceives pain signals. Some people feel a tingling sensation, and others feel nothing at all.

Two types of spinal cord stimulation

Before we recommend SCS, our team carefully examines your current health and your family health history to make sure you’re capable of tolerating minor surgery. It’s also critical that you be able to manage the device. Once we determine that you’re a good candidate, we advise you about the different types of SCS.

Conventional

Radiating pain — like the type that occurs after lumbar spine surgery and travels down your back and legs, or the kind that spreads down your arms after neck surgery — responds well to conventional SCS. 

Conventional SCS involves a small device that is implanted under your skin that stimulates your spinal cord through electrical leads as we described earlier. It runs on a battery that lasts about 10 years, at which time we replace the unit.

Rechargeable

As its name suggests, this type of SCS can be recharged when the battery runs low, so there’s no need for a second surgical procedure. Otherwise, it works similarly, and because it lasts longer and puts out more electricity, it’s a better choice for back pain that radiates down one or both legs. 

Spinal cord stimulation test run

Before you commit to having an SCS implanted for good, we conduct a trial to make sure it provides adequate pain relief. To do this, we place electrical leads into your epidural space through a needle and position them at the source of your pain.

The electrical leads are connected to an external device that you control to activate the leads that block the pain signals. We monitor your symptoms for up to a week, and we make adjustments to the device if necessary. 

If you experience 50% pain relief or more, we consider it a success, and we implant the generator and leads for long-term use.

This trial period also serves as a diagnostic tool in that it allows us to locate the precise nerve or nerves causing the pain.

Spinal cord stimulation isn’t for everyone, but if you’ve been suffering for months or years and have tried more traditional treatments without success, you may be a good candidate. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone with CHOICE Pain & Rehabilitation Center today.

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