Spinal cord stimulation is an alternative treatment for chronic back pain that has not responded to physical therapy, pain medication, and other conventional treatments.
Chronic back pain caused by wear and tear, previous injuries, and even underlying medical conditions are usually managed with nonsurgical treatments. The treatments vary from limited activity and rest to over-the-counter pain medication. But, when these treatments do not provide sufficient if any, pain relief, a spinal cord stimulator might help.
What Conditions Can a Spinal Cord Stimulator Help?
There are a number of painful conditions that respond well to spinal cord stimulation, including:
· Nerve damage
· Failed back surgery of the lumbar or cervical spine
If you suffer from any of these conditions, spinal cord stimulation may help to control and relieve the pain.
What Are the Advantages of Spinal Cord Stimulation?
One of the main advantages of the spinal cord stimulator is that is can be programmed through the skin with a computer antenna. As a result, if the location of the pain or type of pain changes, the device is easy enough to re-program to restore its effectiveness. What’s more, should the pain eventually subside or if the device no longer proves effective, the stimulator can be removed.
How Can the Treatment Stop the Pain?
Neuropathic pain occurs when there is a disease, trauma, or injury to your central or peripheral nervous system. The neuropathic pain symptoms cause you to feel pricking, sharp, and often stabbing pain in your lower or upper extremities. You may feel a high degree of pain from something like a brush against the skin. You may also experience an increased response to a painful stimulus. For instance, something as light as a pinprick can cause intense pain.
A spinal cord stimulate provides pain relief by using an implanted device designed to transmit mild electrical impulses to your spinal cord. In turn, the stimulation interrupts the sensation of pain, offering a more tolerable sensation known as paresthesia. While this sensation differs from one patient to the next, many describe it as a pleasant tingling sensation.
What Are the Results of Spinal Cord Stimulation?
The results of the therapy depend on successful trial stimulation, the right surgical technique, and patient knowledge. Typically, treatment is considered successful when pain is reduced by half, if not completely abated.
Studies of spinal cord stimulation show excellent pain relief in the long term in up to 80 percent of patients suffering from chronic pain.
One particular study reports that 20 percent of patients improved significantly to return to daily chores or gainful employment with stimulation therapy alone.
Living with the Stimulator
Once the stimulator has been programmed, patients are sent home with clear instructions for regulating the stimulation via control of the duration and strength of the stimulation periods. The amplitude, pulse width, and frequencies may be altered, if necessary, at follow-up visits.
There are three programmable settings on the pulse generator:
· Pulse width – the area covered by stimulation
· Frequency – the number of time stimulation is to be delivered per second.
· Pulse amplitude – the threshold of perception to pain
The programmer is a handheld device that allows you to turn the stimulator on and off, adjust the stimulation strength, and select programs. Most patients are given multiple programs to achieve the best pain relief possible.
Some patients report to feeling differences in the intensity of the stimulation depending on their position, such as lying down versus standing. This is normal and is the result of variations in the spread of electricity.
Who Is a Candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal cord stimulation is recommended when other pain relief treatments have failed, when surgery is not an option, or when surgery has failed.
You may be a candidate for the treatment if:
· You would not benefit from further surgery
· Conservative therapies have already failed
· The pain is caused by a problem that can be corrected
· You choose not to have further surgery due to long recovery or risks
· You do not have an untreated drug addiction or depression
· You do not have any medical conditions that would keep you from implantation
· You have already had a successful spinal cord stimulate trial
Spinal cord stimulation has proven to be effective at significantly reducing chronic back pain. It’s important to note that the treatment does not treat the underlying cause of pain but is used to relieve discomfort.
Overall, the treatment offers a range of advantages, including reducing the need for prescription pain medication and offering targeted pain relief with minimal side effects. The treatment is also reversible should it no longer be needed.