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Spinal Cord Stimulation
What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is an advanced form of pain management therapy designed to treat chronic pain in the back and neck. As the name suggests, this treatment “stimulates” the nerves in your spine, blocking the pain signals coming from those nerves and providing relief. This revolutionary treatment can provide long-term pain relief and eliminate the need for opioids and other pain medication.
Spinal Cord stimulation relies on a surgically implanted device appropriately called a spinal cord stimulator. The spinal cord stimulator consists of two main parts, a battery and a pair of thin leads. The leads are carefully and precisely placed along your spine, next to the specific nerves associated with your pain. The leads are then connected to the battery, which is implanted into a small pocket in your lower abdomen.
Spinal cord stimulation therapy begins when the battery is turned on and programmed. The battery emits mild electrical pulses, which travel along the leads to the nerves, “stimulating” them. Pain is reduced because the electrical pulses modify and mask pain signals before they reach your brain. Spinal Cord Stimulation does not eliminate your chronic pain. Instead, it interferes with nerve signals, changing the way the brain perceives them. Basically, the pain is still there, but you can’t feel it.
Some devices use a low-frequency current that replaces your chronic pain with a mild tingling sensation. Other spinal cord stimulation devices use a high-frequency current which results in no tingling at all. Twin Cities Pain Clinic offers all of the leading spinal cord stimulator brands, including Abbott, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, Nevro, and Nuvectra. Your provider will help you determine the best device for treating your chronic pain.
Try It First – The Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial
A key benefit of Spinal Cord Stimulation is that you can “test drive” the therapy first, to help you and your doctor decide if it’s right for you. A Spinal Cord Stimulator trial typically lasts between 3 and 7 days. During the trial, temporary leads are placed in your back. No incision is made, and the procedure is quick and minimally invasive. The battery pack is then worn externally like a belt. During this trial period you may go about your daily routine, adjusting the stimulation to see what works for you. At the end of your trial period, you will return to the clinic where the leads will be removed. At this appointment, you and your provider will discuss whether or not to move forward with the permanent implant.
Who is a candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Candidates for a spinal cord stimulator have often tried conservative therapies and had no pain relief, would not benefit from additional surgery, or do not want to pursue surgery due to risks or long recovery. Spinal cord stimulation therapy is generally recommended for patients who have usually had debilitating chronic pain for more than 3 months.
What can I expect during the trial?
The spinal cord stimulator trial procedure is done by a physician at an outpatient surgery center. You will be receiving sedation through an IV prior to the procedure. Our staff will bring you into the procedure room where you will be laid on your stomach on a special table. Nurses will clean your skin at the injection sites and apply a local anesthetic to numb your skin. A physician will use a small needle to place two temporary leads for the spinal cord stimulator along the area of the spine that correlates with your pain. Once the leads are placed, they are connected to an external battery and covered by a large bandage. You will get to go home and use the trial stimulator in your daily life for one week. You will be instructed to avoid getting the bandages wet and you will only be allowed to sponge bathe. You will return to the clinic two to three days after your temporary leads have been placed, at which time a nurse will examine your lead insertion site and a representative from the device manufacturer will fine tune stimulation. You will return to the clinic one week after your lead placement to have the leads removed. At this time you will discuss the amount of pain relief you received during the trial. If you decided to pursue an implanted spinal cord stimulator, we will work with your insurance company to get the implant approved.
What can I expect during the implant surgery?
Prior to the implant surgery you will need to obtain a preoperative history and physical evaluation. You will also need to have an implant education appointment with your Twin Cities Pain Clinic provider. The surgery is performed by a physician at an outpatient surgery center. You will be receiving sedation through an IV prior to the procedure. Our staff will bring you into the operating room and lay you on your stomach on a special table. Nurses will prep and clean your skin prior to any incisions being made. A physician will use a small needle to place the permanent leads for the spinal cord stimulator along the area of the spine that correlates to your pain. Once the leads are placed, they will be connected to a battery implanted in the lower abdomen. This surgery is an outpatient procedure and you should plan on being at the surgery center for three to four hours.
What can I expect after the surgery?
You will receive an antibiotic to prevent infection. To prevent movement of the implanted leads, there are certain activities you should avoid for six to eight weeks after the surgery, including bending at the waist, twisting, reaching overhead, and lifting more than five pounds. You will return to the clinic three to four days after the surgery, at which time a nurse who will examine your incision site. You will also meet with a representative from the spinal cord stimulator device company who will turn on the device and program it. After that, it’s time to start enjoying your life with less pain!
Spinal Cord Stimulation could change your life! Schedule your initial consultation today.
"TCPC saved me from losing my career due to debilitating pain!"
— TCPC patient since 2009