Spinal Cord Stimulation: What to Expect

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Spinal Cord Stimulation: What to Expect

Neck and back pain are sometimes difficult to treat. When conservative measures don’t produce enough relief, spinal cord stimulation may be the answer before you turn to surgery. Here’s what you can expect from a stimulator.

Before turning to the sometimes unpredictable process of major spinal surgery, chronic neck and back pain sufferers may turn to spinal cord stimulation as a minimally invasive way to sidestep their symptoms. 

Working much like a pacemaker, a spinal cord stimulator uses tiny electrical signals to scramble the way nerves transmit pain signals. 

The team at Metro Anesthesia & Pain Management in West Des Moines and Des Moines, Iowa, has a broad range of treatment techniques available to treat your pain. Our spinal cord stimulator specialists are ready to discuss this option with you when your symptoms persist. 

Chances are that you’ve already had treatments that may suggest how well stimulation might work for you. Here’s what you can expect from spinal cord stimulation. 

How a spinal cord stimulator works

Your body is a system with many parts run by tiny electrical impulses sent through your nerve network. This system runs automatic systems like your heartbeat, allows deliberate motion through voluntary muscles, and provides stimulatory feedback including touch and pain. 

A spinal cord stimulator uses a small battery pack called a generator to supply an electrical signal to electrodes. The generator is typically placed under the skin on the abdomen or buttocks, and the electrodes go to a targeted location between the spinal cord and vertebrae, called the epidural space. 

It’s not fully understood how or why the stimulator produces its pain-relieving effects. It seems to reprioritize the signals going through the targeted nerves, masking the chronic pain signals causing you to suffer. 

Stimulator trial

If you’ve received nerve block injections for your pain that produced temporary relief, you may be a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation, since it shows your nerves respond in a predictable way. The stimulator process also has a trial phase, before permanent implantation of components takes place. 

During the trial, your doctor implants the electrodes, but the generator stays outside your body. This allows you to determine if the spinal cord stimulator works for you before you commit to full implantation. 

Spinal cord stimulation doesn’t work for all patients, though good candidates usually report their pain levels during the trial are about half of what they experienced before the stimulator. They also tend to report that daily life functions substantially improve. 

What to expect from permanent implantation

Stimulator implantation is usually done as an outpatient procedure under local anesthetic with sedation. Using fluoroscopy, a type of live-action X-ray, your doctor locates a hollow needle at the treatment site, through which they place the electrodes and attached leads. 

At this stage, you’re revived from sedation to confirm the location of the electrodes. After confirming pain coverage, the leads are fixed in place. 

Implanting the generator is next, at a position previously chosen for comfort. Wires connecting the generator to the electrode leads are the final components placed. Incisions are closed, and your stimulator is ready to go. 

There are frequent updates to stimulator technology. Typically, you have a remote control that lets you control the amount and timing of pain relief. Your provider gives you instructions specific to your stimulator. 

Start the process toward pain-free living by consulting with our team at Metro Anesthesia & Pain Management. Request an appointment by phone or online at the nearest location today.