What Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Procedure Entail?

by AZ Pain Doctors, on Aug 25, 2022 11:04:00 AM

Do you suffer from pain on most days? If so, you’re not alone. In the U.S., chronic pain is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions.

In fact, studies show that 20.5 percent or 50.2 million American adults report chronic pain. This causes an estimated $300 billion in lost productivity each year.

One approach to treatment uses spinal cord stimulation. This intervention may hold the answer to relief from your pain. Keep reading to learn more.

Signs That You Need to See a Pain Management Provider

Many individuals find it hard to decide if their pain is bad enough to go and see a doctor. If you’ve changed your activities or lifestyle due to pain, it’s time to get help.

The following describes pain experiences that indicate you have chronic pain. 

  • You’ve had pain for more than a few weeks
  • The pain is worse when you move
  • The pain medications have stopped providing relief
  • You’re having trouble sleeping because of pain
  • The pain is moving to your arms, legs, or whole body
  • You start having tingling or numbness

The pain management team will develop an individual treatment plan for your needs. The earlier you start treatment, the greater the success rate.

When Is Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) Recommended?

Patients with chronic pain not related to movement are often the best candidates. Many individuals have unrelieved pain after undergoing surgery. Enhanced recovery pathways (ERPs) involve several modalities for surgical pain treatment.

Postoperative pain is a common but often inadequately treated condition. Enhanced recovery pathways (ERPs) are providing pre- and postoperative interventions.

ERP begins with increased protein before surgery and pain management therapy after. The goal is to promote recovery while reducing the use of opioids.

SCS plays an important role when other pain management approaches have failed. It's proven effective in these common conditions:

  • Abnormal nerve function in the abdomen causing chronic pain
  • Arachnoiditis
  • Lumbar radiculopathy
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Persistent pain after a hernia repair
  • Phantom stump or limb pain
  • Post-Laminectomy Syndrome or Failed Back Syndrome
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy
  • Refractory angina
  • Sciatica

It’s important to discuss all your medical conditions with the pain management team. For some individuals, SCS may not be the best choice. For example, it’s not recommended for people who are pregnant or have a pacemaker.

How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Relieve Pain?

The body sends pain signals through nerves in the spinal cord to your brain. SCS sends low-voltage electrical currents to the spinal cord.

This interferes with the pain signals to the brain, so you don’t “feel” pain. The SCS approach works best when the pain comes from peripheral nerves. Thus, the pain source arises from nerves outside of the spinal cord.

What's Involved in Having a Spinal Cord Stimulation Procedure?

The first step in the SCS treatment process is to conduct a trial to see if it’s effective. To do this, the provider first gives you a local anesthetic to numb the area. Then they put a hollow needle into the space outside your spinal cord (epidural space). 

Next, using an X-ray video screen, the doctor slides electrode wires through the needle. They’re placed between the bone and spinal cord. This is the area where the targeted nerves are sending pain messages.

An external pulse generator is then connected to these wires. You’ll wear the pulse generator hooked to a special belt for seven to eight days.

This allows your doctor to see if this treatment decreases your pain. If the trial is successful, then it’s time to get your spinal cord implant.

Once again, you’ll receive a local anesthetic. Then the doctor will make a small incision near your buttocks or abdomen. After making a small pocket, the physician connects the wires and puts the SCS implant under the skin.

The incision is sutured closed with a tiny antenna extending out of the skin. You’ll have a remote control to turn the device on and off as you need it. This remote also lets you increase or decrease the level of stimulation.

It’s key to know that this does not fix the cause of the pain. It only stops the pain signal from going to your brain.

The level of pain relief varies from one person to the next. Some people feel a fluttering or tingling sensation instead of pain. Others don’t feel anything at all.

Promising Research into Treating Spinal Cord Injuries

Research into spinal cord treatment has long been an important area of study. In February 2022, Nature Medicine published the result of a promising ongoing trial.

The scientists tested three patients who have complete sensorimotor paralysis. These participants had 16-electrode devices placed in their epidural space. The electrodes were placed between the spinal cord membrane and the vertebrae.

A “pacemaker” was then implanted under the skin of their abdomen. The researchers used a computer to send varied electrical pulse sequences.

The device stimulates motor nerves that carry signals from the brain to the muscles. In this case, the signal travels from the electrode-stimulated nerves to the muscles. Within one day, the participants stood, walked, swam, cycled, and controlled trunk movements.

Are You Seeking Relief from Chronic Pain?

Spinal cord stimulation may be the answer to your ongoing pain. The AZ Pain Doctors have a top Interventional Pain Management Practice rating. We use a variety of modalities to treat an individual’s pain.

This includes acupuncture, chiropractic, epidural injections, and medication management. They also offer radiofrequency ablation, platelet-rich plasma, vertiflex, and SCS.

Our team begins by evaluating your condition to find the root cause. Then we create a unique, safe, and effective treatment plan. 

Don’t let pain stop you from living your life. There are options available to reduce your pain. Schedule an appointment today to find the help you need.

Topics:spinal cord stimulation