Chronic pain is a serious public health problem, affecting about 100 million U.S. adults. That’s about one out of every four people. Lower back pain is the most common type of chronic pain; about 80 percent of people experience it at some point in their lives. For years, patients can suffer debilitating pain in the back and neck even with surgery and pain medications. An alternative and effective treatment to chronic neck and back pain involves the spinal cord stimulation procedure. Spinal cord stimulation is a therapy that stimulates the nerves in the spine to interrupt the pain signal from reaching the brain. It’s a small device that is implanted in the body to deliver electrical pulses to the spinal cord. It helps people manage their chronic pain symptoms and reduce the use of opioid medications. With the spinal cord stimulator turned on, the pain in your nerves is reduced with the electrical pulses. The pulses modify and mask the pain signal from reaching your brain.
What is spinal cord stimulation?
A spinal cord stimulator is an implanted device that sends low levels of electricity directly into the patient’s spinal cord to relieve pain. Spinal cord stimulators are composed of thin wires and a small, pacemaker-like battery pack. The thin wires are placed between the spinal cord and the vertebrae, the epidural space, and the battery is placed under the skin, usually near the buttocks or abdomen. Spinal cord stimulators allow patients to send the electrical impulses using a remote control when they feel pain. Both the remote control and its antenna are outside the body. It’s used most often after nonsurgical pain treatments have failed to provide sufficient relief.
Spinal cord stimulators require two procedures to test and implant the device – the trail and the implantation. Each patient is different but generally people who benefit from spinal cord stimulation are those who have still have pain even with pain medications, prior surgeries and other therapies. There are different types of spinal cord stimulators that are available to patients. Some devices use low-frequency currents while others use high frequency bursts to help mask the pain. Battery types can also vary by implantable types, rechargeable and radiofrequency stimulators. Dr. Racz and his medical team will explain the different types of spinal cord stimulators that best fits your medical needs.
How does spinal cord stimulation work?
Determining whether a spinal cord stimulator will work with a patient is two step process involving the trial and the implantation. The spinal cord stimulator trial is the phase where Dr. Racz ill implant a temporary device for the patient to test out. It’s guided by fluoroscopy or a special X-ray, that allows the doctor to inert electrodes into the epidural space of the spine. For about a week, the patients evaluate how the device helps reduce the pain and if the pain reduction is 50% or higher, the patient moves to the next phase. If unsuccessful, the wires are easily removed without any impacts to the nerves or spine.
During the permanent implantation procedure, the wires are placed under the skin securely to minimize movement. This formal procedure can take from 1 to 2 hours and is performed as an outpatient procedure with a local anesthesia. Most patients leave after the anesthesia has worn off and the recovery is about 2 to 4 weeks.
What are the advantages of spinal cord stimulation?
Finding relief from chronic pain is complicated. The results of a spinal cord stimulator really depend on the thoughtful match with the patient and their need. Dr. Racz takes tremendous care to select, trial, implant, educate and monitor his patients throughout the procedure. Clinical studies show a good to excellent long-term relief in 50% to 80% of patients suffering from chronic pain. Spinal cord stimulators are reversible and if a patient decides at any time to discontinue, the wires and batteries can be removed. Other benefits of spinal cord stimulation include:
- Adjustable pain relief. Pain can vary from one person to another person and stimulators offers a more precise level of pain management calibration
- Minimally invasive. A small incision is needed to implant the battery and the procedure is reversible
- Reduced opioids. This procedure allows for patients to take fewer medications
- Targeted pain relief. This procedure delivers pain relief only to where it’s needed
- Limited side effects. The procedure does not have the side effects associated with many medications