June 11, 2020
When more conservative pain relief treatments have failed for patients suffering with chronic back pain, pain management physicians often recommend neurostimulation therapy (aka Spinal Cord Stimulation) as an alternative.
A Spinal Cord Stimulator is an implantable device that “interrupts” pain signals before they reach the brain, replacing those signals with a more pleasant sensation.
A Spinal Cord Stimulator consists of:
- Stimulating electrodes
- An electrical pulse generator
- A remote control that enables the patient to modify how the stimulation feels
Spinal Cord Stimulation is most commonly recommended in the case of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS), which affects patients who have undergone previous spinal surgery without success.
A temporary “trial stimulator” is first tested to determine the correct region in the spine where electrodes should be implanted, and whether or not the device will be helpful in controlling the pain. The procedure is performed on an outpatient basis under light sedation and usually takes just one to two hours.
Here’s what patients can expect during the trial stimulator process:
- Lying face down on a table, the patient’s skin is cleaned and numbed with anesthetic.
- The pain physician uses a fluoroscopic X-ray machine to help guide electrodes to the correct area of the spine that will be stimulated to reduce pain.
- One or more temporary leads are inserted through a needle into the epidural space of the spinal canal.
- Once it is determined that the leads are at the right level, they are connected to an external generator with cables, typically worn on a belt around the patient’s waist. The external generator acts as a ‘programmer’, allowing the patient to manually control the level of stimulation.
- The trial period usually lasts from 5 to 7 days, but can be canceled at any time, and temporary leads removed by the pain doctor in-clinic.
If the patient and pain physician determine that the trial stimulator provided sufficient pain relief, the next step is to have the system permanently implanted. This procedure may be performed on an outpatient basis, however, a short hospital stay may be recommended, depending on the pain physician’s indications for each individual patient.
During the permanent procedure:
- New, permanent leads are positioned in the epidural space at the level that provides maximum pain relief.
- Next, the pain physician makes a small incision to implant the electrical pulse generator below the skin, (typically in the abdomen or lower back region.)
- The leads are then “tunneled” under the skin to the generator, which will be programmed by an external control unit.
After the procedure:
- The patient is shown how to turn the stimulator on and off, as well as how to adjust the amount or intensity of the stimulation.
- The patient is also be given guidance on maintaining the stimulator, and which activities should be avoided.
- For a few days after the procedure, there may be some mild swelling and discomfort around the incision site.
Although a Spinal Cord Stimulator will not cure the underlying pain condition, it has helped thousands of people significantly reduce their pain and enabled a return to their normal everyday activities.
Do you suffer from chronic back pain?
At Riverside Pain Physicians, we are committed to helping restore our patients to a more pain-free quality of life. Our expert pain management physicians are dedicated to relieving your suffering with compassionate, individualized care and state-of-the-art technologies for pain relief.
If you suffer from chronic back pain, let us help. Reach out to us today at Riverside Pain Physicians by calling 904.389.1010, or clicking here to make an appointment online.