If you are looking for a safe, effective way to relieve unresponsive pain, cutting-edge spinal cord stimulation may be the answer for you.
The Pain Experts of Arizona are experienced pain specialists who can help you return to a pain-free life with treatments like spinal cord stimulation. Learn more about spinal cord stimulation in the following video and article, or schedule your first consultation with our team.
What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted device that sends low levels of electricity into the spinal cord to relieve pain. While stimulation does not eliminate the source of pain, it can change the way the brain perceives pain. For our patients in Arizona spinal cord stimulation may be a good idea for you if non-surgical pain treatment options have failed to give you sufficient relief. Spinal cord stimulation can often improve your quality of life, improve your sleep, and reduce your need for pain medication.
Put simply, this procedure places thin wire leads into the epidural space between your spinal cord and vertebrae. Connected to an implanted generator device, the leads deliver a mild electrical current that replaces pain signals. Debilitating, unresponsive pain is replaced instead by a mild tingling sensation.
The most common condition treated by spinal cord stimulation is back pain, especially back pain that remains or worsens after back surgery.
Other chronic pain conditions that a spinal cord stimulator treats include the following:
- Angina (heart pain)
- Spinal cord injuries
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Nerve pain (e.g., diabetic neuropathy or severe neuropathic pain related to cancer treatments, like radiation or chemotherapy)
- Post amputation pain
- Abdominal pain
- Pain in the internal organs (visceral pain)*
- Inflammation of the membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord (arachnoiditis)
Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation
There are many spinal cord stimulation benefits for those with unresponsive chronic pain.
To start, the device and corresponding effects are adjustable. Pain levels vary among people, and spinal cord stimulators can respond. You have control of the frequency and intensity of the stimulation. Pain control is completely adjustable as needed.
Spinal cord stimulation is also minimally invasive. The procedure is a surgical one, but only one small incision is needed to place the spinal cord stimulator generator. The leads are placed with a hollow needle.
Finally, this approach can reduce opioid use among those with severe chronic pain. A 2018 study found that 71% of people with a spinal cord stimulator were able to significantly reduce or eliminate their use of opioids.
In addition, spinal cord stimulation has few side effects, is a cost-effective treatment option, and is very low maintenance. Ongoing studies continue to prove the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation for a variety of chronic pain conditions. Talk to your doctor to see if this treatment is right for you!
Candidates for spinal cord stimulator implantation
Typically, people who benefit most from spinal cord stimulation are those who have not achieved sufficient pain relief, medications, less invasive therapies, or prior surgeries. Patients diagnosed with psychological disorders that might decrease the effectiveness of the procedure may be disqualified.
Risks of Spinal Cord Stimulation
Although generally recognized as safe, all medical procedures come with risks and the possibility of side effects. Spinal cord stimulation risks include:
- Movement of the generator or leads
- Damage to the generator (in a fall or other accident)
Serious but rare side effects include spinal cord trauma or damage and dural puncture. A dural puncture can cause severe headaches.
When it comes to living with spinal cord stimulation, side effects are often rare, mild, and well-tolerated. Some people do not like the buzzing sensation produced by the electrical current. Others report discomfort sleeping due to generator placement. The best way to avoid these side effects and risks is to talk to your doctor before your procedure.
Spinal Cord Stimulation Procedure
The spinal cord stimulation procedure occurs in two phases: a trial and a permanent implant.
Phase 1: The trial
A trial period is important in the spinal cord stimulation procedure. This helps to see if the treatment is effective for you before your doctor implants a more permanent device.
Your doctor will offer light sedation and apply a numbing solution to the area where the leads are to be placed. The leads are guided into the epidural space. Your doctor may use X-ray guidance (fluoroscopy) to ensure proper placement.
Once the leads are inserted in the approximate location, your doctor will ask you to assess the pain relief. You may feel a mild buzzing sensation, or you may feel no pain. Once the location is verified, the trial surgery is complete.
You’ll wear the generator discreetly outside of your body during the trial, which lasts about two weeks (sometimes less).
Phase 2: Permanent implant
If your trial is successful, a permanent placement will occur. The name of this phase is misleading, though, as the spinal cord stimulation procedure is totally reversible.
The leads and generator can be removed any time you wish to stop treatment. The main difference is that the generator will also be surgically implanted at this time. You may have new leads implanted in the epidural space, but this may not be necessary.
As with the trial spinal cord stimulator, this outpatient procedure is performed under sedation. Once the leads are in place, your Arizona spinal cord stimulation provider will wake you up to make sure they are still providing relief before continuing the procedure.
For the generator, you and your doctor will discuss in advance where you would prefer it to be placed. A small flap of skin is opened to place the generator. Generally, the generator is located discreetly under the skin in the buttocks, abdomen, or chest. Finally, your doctor will close the surgical site, and you will be wheeled into a recovery area to rest briefly.
Spinal Cord Stimulation Recovery
Spinal cord stimulation recovery is generally easy and relatively comfortable. Each spinal cord stimulation procedure (both the trial and permanent implantation) is performed as an outpatient surgery. You will relax in recovery until your anesthesia wears off. You’ll need a friend or family member to drive you home. Plan to rest and take it easy for the remainder of the day.
You may feel a bit sore at the surgical site. This is normal. Take care not to twist or stretch in a way that might place strain on the site. Avoid vigorous workouts or heavy physical activities until your doctor clears you.
Keep the dressings on your incision site clean and dry. They can be removed after three days (or as directed by your doctor). Your incisions should heal completely two to four weeks after surgery. This is a good time to return to previous levels of activity, including work, exercise, and driving, once okayed by your doctor.
If you are prescribed any medications, take them only as directed.
Spinal Cord Stimulation Results
The goal for spinal cord stimulation is a 50% to 70% reduction in pain. But even a small amount of pain reduction may help you perform your daily activities and reduce your use of medications. Please note that spinal cord stimulation does not increase muscle strength.
Schedule a consultation for Spinal Cord Stimulation with Pain Experts of Arizona
At Pain Experts of Arizona, spinal cord stimulation is part of our larger goal of finding better ways for our patients to manage and reduce pain. Our goal is to steer our patients away from habit-forming medications that distract from pain and instead find real, science-based solutions that improve their quality of life. If you’ve been struggling with back pain, schedule a consultation with us to talk about spinal cord stimulation. We serve patients in Gilbert, Chandler, and the greater Phoenix area.
Spinal Cord Stimulation FAQs
Can I have X-rays and CT scans with a spinal cord stimulator?
As long as you power off your device, X-rays and CT scans are generally safe. Before undergoing any scan, always let your doctor and technician know you have a spinal cord stimulator.
Can I have an MRI with a spinal cord stimulator?
MRIs are not always safe for people with spinal cord stimulators. If your device is not MRI compatible, MRIs can cause serious injury. Again, communicate with your physician and medical staff.
Will my stimulator set off airport security?
Yes, but your doctor will give you an identification card that may allow you to bypass the machine.
Can I drive with my stimulator?
No, you should power off your stimulator when you drive or operate heavy machinery because sudden changes in stimulation levels could cause distraction.
Can a spinal cord stimulator be removed?
Yes, a spinal cord stimulator can be safely removed if there is a mechanical problem with the device, if you are not satisfied with your level of pain relief or if you develop an infection.
The Pain Experts of Arizona, primarily serving Gilbert and Chandler, are dedicated to improving the lives of patients and their families. PEA combines the latest in medical innovation with compassionate personal care to develop a safe and effective treatment plan designed just for you. Schedule a consultation as a first step toward living the life you love.