As the spinal cord is part of the central nervous system, its proper function is critical to an individual’s quality of life. The central nervous system controls the body’s sensory information (pressure, touch, temperature, pain) which travels in established pathways into the spinal cord and onto the brain where the signals are interpreted into the different experiences. When the spinal cord is damaged, it can lead to a variety of symptoms including: loss of movement, difficulty breathing, loss of bowel/bladder control, and many others. Continue reading to learn when a spinal cord stimulator may be necessary to correct a patient’s condition and allow them to live pain-free.
What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a small surgically implanted device which transmits electrical pulses that disrupt the transmission of pain signals reducing or eliminating pain from almost any part of the body. It is believed that electric pulses prevent pain signals from being received from the brain. The device itself consists of thin wires (the electrodes) and a small, pacemaker-like battery(the generator). Once implanted, the individual can control the electrical signals from an external wireless programmer to adjust the stimulation, switch between programs, and turn it on/off to alleviate the pain.
What is Spinal Cord Stimulation Used For?
Spinal cord stimulators can be an option for patients with a myriad of conditions, including but not limited to:
- Spinal stenosis
- Pinched nerves
- Post-knee replacement pain
- Post-hip replacement pain
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
- Failed back surgery syndrome
- Shingles pain
- Peripheral vascular disease
Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery
If you’re a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator, it’s important to understand that there are 2 separate procedures you must undergo; the trial and the implantation.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial
- Before the device is permanently placed, the GSMC team will implant a temporary device for three to ten days to see if it can help to alleviate the long-term pain. During the implantation process, the electrode is placed through a needle into the spine and the generator is taped to the back so that no incisions are made. During the trial period, the patient will be able to test the device for improved pain relief and function. If the patient notes significant improvement, they may elect to proceed with the implanted device. the.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Implantation
- After the trial is complete and if the patient notes significant improvement in pain relief and function, we will move forward with the second procedure which is to implant the device underneath the skin. During the procedure, the trial electrodes are replaced with sterile electrodes and are carefully placed along the spinal cord. The generator is then placed underneath the skin located above the buttocks.
Both procedures are done under light sedation and patient’s are able to return home the same day.
Types of Spinal Cord Stimulators
When it comes to types of spinal cord stimulators, the GSMC team recommends conventional and rechargeable generators to their patients. The main difference being that with a rechargeable stimulator, you can recharge it without another surgery versus a conventional stimulator requiring another surgery. Rechargeable systems tend to last longer, but must be charged 1-2 times a week (noninvasive) while conventional stimulators have no ongoing upkeep, but its battery needs to be replaced sooner.
There are a number of different manufacturers of the device, each having proprietary software to deliver the energy in unique ways. Some stimulators give patients a tingling feeling while others feel nothing other than pain relief. The majority of the systems that our team uses are also MRI compatible as well.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Recovery
Once the implantation is complete, patients are discharged the same day, typically within an hour after their procedure has finished. In the days following, it is common to feel pain around the incision sites, with the full healing taking between 2-4 weeks. During that time, we recommend taking it easy and avoiding any activities that may aggravate the areas. However, often 1 week after the surgery patients are able to return to work and go about their normal activities.