Understanding Neuromodulation and How a Spinal Cord Stimulator Can Help With Chronic Back Pain

August 13, 2018 0
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Did you know that opioid abuse in chronic pain patients is around 25 %?

There are options out there to aid with chronic back pain. In this article, we are going to discuss why a spinal cord stimulator might be the right choice for you. We will discuss how it can help with chronic back pain.

Are you interested in learning more about this? Keep reading to find out more!

Spinal Cord Stimulators for Chronic Pain

Patients experiencing chronic pain conditions without relief may be interested in Spinal Cord Stimulation. It can be a long-term and successful solution that will increase mobility and reduce pain, allowing you to return to an active lifestyle.

Spinal Cord Stimulation can treat:

  • Chronic Neck and Back Pain

  • Nerve Pain from many sources including shingles, peripheral neuropathy

  • Postlaminectomy syndrome or Fail Back Surgery Syndrome

  • Refractory Angina

  • Complex regional pain syndrome

How Spinal Cord Stimulation Works

Spinal Cord Stimulators deliver electrical pulses to the spinal cord. The electrical impulses are mild, and they help to mask the pain signals that are being sent to the brain. By hiding your pain with electricity, we often are able to substantially reduce and eliminate pain.

Spinal Cord Stimulation Advantages

  • Medication free/has shown to help get patients off medication

  • Reversible – can be taken out if needed

  • Minimally invasive – not major surgery!

  • Evidence to support improvement in function and quality of life

Looking at Getting a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

This may not be your physician’s first suggestion when discussing ways to treat your chronic pain. However, if you have experienced the pain for a long time and have tried other options such as physical therapy/chiropractics, injections, surgeries, and medications which have failed to offer you relief, spinal cord stimulation maybe an appropriate treatment option.

The best part about spinal cord stimulation is that there is an ability to “test drive” the device before deciding it is right for you. During this temporary trial, an external simulator is applied so you can experience the sensations and the effectiveness of the treatment before moving forward. If the device fails to provide you adequate relief, the test drive is ended. If the device works well, it is a minor outpatient surgery to have the device implanted.

What to Know About Stimulation

The spinal cord stimulator isn’t going to eliminate the source of the pain. Like we discussed before, it will help interfere with the signals being sent to the brain. The amount of pain relief will vary per person. That is the purpose of using a “test drive” prior to implanting the device which allows an individual patient to determine if spinal cord stimulation is right for him/her. The ultimate goal for this is to reduce 50-70 % of the pain that the patient is experiencing however pain relief is just one aspect of the benefits to spinal cord stimulation. Other metrics used to determine success include functional ability and medication use. Our goal is to help patients be able to do more with less medications.

Spinal Cord Stimulator Device Systems

There are several companies that make spinal cord stimulation devices. The basic unit has three main parts:

  • A battery that generates the electrical pulses.

  • Wires that carry and deliver electrical pulsations to the spinal cord.

  • A remote control you can hold that turns the device off and on and also adjusts settings.

There are two battery types – rechargable and non-rechargable. There are pros and cons of both. Rechargable batteries tend to have a longer life span (does not need to be surgically replaced as often) however there is a charge burden (often 30-45 minutes every other day). Non re-chargable batteries often mean less day to day hassle however the battery needs to be surgical replaced more often.

Your physician at Garden State Medical Center can go over the differences and help determine what is the right system for your individual needs.

What Are the Results for Spinal Cord Stimulators?

We know that stimulation does not cure the condition causing the pain but instead helps the patient manage it.

Spinal cord stimulators are considered successful if the pain is reduced by at least half.

Studies of spinal cord stimulation reveal strong to excellent pain reduction in 50-80 % patients suffering from chronic pain.

One research shows that 24 % of patients are even able to go back to their jobs or complete housework without the addition of pain medication.

If a patient does decide that they no longer want to continue the therapy, it is reversible. The generator and electrode wires can be removed completely.

Are There Any Risks?

Spinal Cord stimulation is not perfect. There are risks with everything in life and this is no different. The basic risk of any invasive treatment is bleeding, infection, damage to nearby structures. In addition, spinal cord stimulation carries some specific risks:

  • Changes in the stimulation could occur due to cellular changes in tissue surrounding the electrodes, changes in electrode position, or loose electrical connections.

  • Lead migrating – the wires can move

  • Lead fracture – the wire can break

  • Habituation – getting used to the stimulation to the point it is no longer helping the pain.


Many of these issues can be improved by a simple re-programming which is an adjustment to your device from the company representative. If that fails to improve the problem, you may need to have a revision surgery to fix the device.

Learn More

In this article, we discussed what a spinal cord stimulator is and how it can help you.

Are you interested in learning more about your options? We can help you.

Remember that you don’t have to live with chronic pain. There are options out there that don’t include pain medication


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