What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

A spinal cord stimulator is a device similar to a pacemaker that is implanted into the body surgically. The spinal cord stimulator delivers small electrical pulses into the spinal cord to reduce pain. It assists people to reduce their chronic pain and decrease their reliance on opioid medications to manage their pain. It can be a great alternative if you are suffering from leg, arm, or back pain.

How It Works
A spinal cord stimulator is a device that is made up of thin wires known as electrodes and a small battery pack also known as the generator that is similar to a pacemaker. The wires are put in between the vertebrae (epidural space) and the spinal cord and the battery pack is put underneath the skin often close to the abdomen or the buttocks. Spinal cord stimulators allow their users to send small electrical signals through a remote control when they are in pain. Both the antenna and the remote control are outside the skin. Spinal cord stimulators deliver low-frequency currents to eliminate the sensation of pain with a light tingling sensation known as paresthesia. Other spinal cord stimulators use burst pulses or high frequencies to hide the pain without any tingling sensation. Though there is a paresthesia-free setting on most devices.

Does it get it rid of the pain?
Stimulation will not get rid of the source of pain. It will simply alter the method the brain understands it. Because of this, the volume of pain relief can vary for each person. The main goal of a spinal cord stimulator is to reduce between 50 to 70 percent of the pain you feel. Even a small reduction in the amount of pain can be vital if it assists you to decrease the amount of pain medication and helps you carry out your everyday tasks.

Does it work for everyone?

Stimulation will not work for each patient. Some patients might find the feeling too uncomfortable, while other people might not receive any pain relief. Because of these grounds, a trial simulation will allow you to test it for around one week. If the spinal cord stimulator does not work for you the trial wire will be removed and this procedure will not leave any damage to the nerves or spinal cord.

Device Battery Life
Spinal cord stimulation systems that are equipped with a non-rechargeable battery are required to be replaced surgically after every 5 years however this depends on how frequently the device is used. Systems with rechargeable batteries can last up to 10 years but the patient has to remember to charge them every day.

Various Setting for Devices

The pulse generator comes equipped with adjustable settings. Some spinal cord stimulation devices can sense any alter in body position such as lying down or sitting and they can adjust the level of stimulation to your activity. Other systems are equipped with leads that can be adjusted independently to cover several pain areas. Some deliver a sub-perception pulse that has no tingling sensation.

If you experience chronic back pain, we can help you determine if a spinal cord stimulator is a good option for you. Visit us at Plano Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Center in Richardson, TX to ask a doctor about this method of treatment.

Dr. Daniel Sunwoo

Physical Medicine and Spine
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