Spinal cord stimulators (SCS) have been used to treat pain since the 1960’s. The device was invented to treat chronic pain and over the years has been found to provide relief to a wide range of types of pain associated with many different conditions. SCS might be the answer for your pain if you have failed other forms of treatment including:
- Physical therapy
- Oral medication
- Epidural steroid injections or radio frequency ablations
- Surgical treatment
The SCS process and how does it work?
Prior to the procedure a patient must obtain psychiatric clearance as chronic pain can cause conditions such as anxiety and depression, reducing the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation. It is also important that the patient contact their prescribing physician(s) to be switched off certain medications such as blood thinners at least one week prior to the procedure. The procedure involves complete sedation under general anesthesia.
The procedure involves two parts, a “trial” and the final implant. The trial part is used to “test” if the spinal cord stimulator can provide moderate to significant relief for the patient’s pain. If there are improvements noted after the initial follow-up, then a permanent implant is scheduled.
A spinal cord stimulator is made up of thin electric leads and a pacemaker-like battery pack. It involves attaching one or more of these leads, under X-ray guidance, up the epidural space (space between the spinal cord and vertebrae). The leads are connected to the battery pack, which is generally placed near the buttocks or abdomen, under the skin. For the trial procedure, the battery pack is taped to the patient’s back. Patients are usually able to return home the same day of implantation and are recommended to avoid any bending, stretching, and lifting while the incision wounds heal.
The stimulator works by delivering adjustable levels of electrical impulses to the areas around the spine to disrupt and alter pain signals between the spinal cord and brain.
Via anonymous patient with chronic pain (58 y/o male): “I can finally get back to doing my yard work and daily activities that I wasn’t able to due to my back and leg pain.”
Via anonymous patient suffering from post-laminectomy pan syndrome (69 y/o female): “Without the stimulator I wouldn’t have been able to attend the Astros parade where I was standing for >2 hours.”
What are the possible risks and complications?
As with most procedures, the risks of spinal cord stimulation include infection, bleeding, lead movement, and residual pain at the implant site.