What is a spinal cord stimulator implant?
A spinal cord stimulator is a small implantable device that Dr. Bowden describes as a “pacemaker for the spine.” The device, which is based on the principles of neurostimulation, administers small electrical currents to the nerves that send out continuous pain signals. These electrical currents prevent the brain from receiving the chronic pain signals, allowing patients to live with significantly reduced pain.
What does a spinal cord stimulator implant treat?
Spinal cord stimulators can treat upper and lower body pain caused by a number of conditions. Some of the most common reasons for using a spinal cord stimulator implant include:
- Failed Back Surgery Syndrome / Post-Laminectomy Syndrome. Approximately half of all back surgeries fail. In some cases, the post-surgery pain is even more intense than the pre-surgery pain. Many patients who receive spinal cord stimulator implants at Pain Management Associates at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute have already gone through a failed back surgery.
- Diabetic Neuropathy. Nerve damage caused by diabetes can result in debilitating pain. Spinal cord stimulator implants are able to help some patients with diabetic neuropathy.
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Patients with this condition, who suffer from chronic pain in a leg or arm, may benefit from a spinal cord stimulator implant.
Other reasons for having a spinal cord stimulator implant include chronic back pain (sometimes accompanied by leg pain), chronic neck pain (sometimes accompanied by arm pain), pain from peripheral vascular disease, peripheral neuropathy, refractory angina, and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).
How is a spinal cord stimulator implant performed?
Receiving a spinal cord stimulator implant is something of a two-step process. First, the patient undergoes a five to seven day trial period, during which they are connected to a portable generator (about the size of a cell phone) that’s connected via wires to the painful nerves. The trial stimulator typically emits different types of electrical currents to see which (if any) are most effective in providing pain relief for the patient. Receiving a trial spinal cord stimulator is an outpatient procedure that takes just a few minutes.
If the trial goes well, then the patient may undergo surgery for a permanent spinal cord stimulator implant. This is a minimally invasive outpatient procedure. During the procedure, which is performed under general anesthesia, small leads are placed under the skin just above the upper buttock or abdomen. A small incision is made, and a generator, which is connected to the leads, is placed inside the body. The batteries in these generators can last for up to five years, at which point a follow-up procedure is necessary. Newer, rechargeable batteries may last even longer.
How effective are spinal cord stimulator implants?
Between 50 and 70 percent of all patients who receive this treatment report a reduction in overall pain. As a result, these patients are able to resume the normal activities that debilitating pain had forced them to miss out on.
There are several different spinal cord stimulator devices, as well as various techniques for implanting the devices. The device, technique, physician experience, and patient condition all play a role in determining how successful this treatment may be for any given patient.
What risks are associated with spinal cord stimulator implants?
There are basic risks associated with any kind of surgery. Risks specific to this surgery include:
- Cerebrospinal fluid leakage
- Infection of battery or electrode site
- Post-surgical movement or damage to the generator or leads
- Nerve damage, which can lead to pain, weakness, or paralysis
- Post-surgical pain
- Difficulty in programming the implant
These risks are rare. However, you should be aware of any possible complications. Additionally, it’s worth noting that having a spinal cord stimulator implant may prevent you from being able to have an MRI in the future.
Is a spinal cord stimulator implant right for my back/neck pain?
Only your physician or a pain management specialist can evaluate your condition and make a treatment recommendation. For more information about spinal cord stimulator implants – or to schedule an appointment – contact Pain Management Associates at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute today. Pain management services available in Mesa, AZ