FAQ’s on Spinal Cord Stimulator

Spinal Cord Stimulator HorizontalWhat is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

A spinal cord stimulator is a device placed along the spine in order to help those patients who have been diagnosed with an otherwise untreatable chronic pain condition involving the neck, arms, legs, or spine. This stimulator is a last resort option available for patients that are no longer eligible for surgical treatment.

The stimulator itself is an electrical device that will be implanted onto the spinal cord, serving to provide controlled electrical stimulation to the patient. This can change the way the brain reads the nerve signals coming from the spine, which may provide relief by altering the way pain signals received by preventing the brain from responding to them. In many cases, this will not remove the pain but will lower the amount of medication the patient must take in order to obtain and maintain symptomatic relief.

What can a Spinal Cord Stimulator treat?

Spinal Cord Stimulator San DiegoIt is worth noting that while these stimulators are an effective tool, they are by no means a first choice in the treatment of a spinal condition. The device is also not actually a treatment in the traditional sense of the word, it is instead a tool for the management of chronic pain symptoms that otherwise cannot be prevented. It is common for a patient to only receive this device when surgery has already been performed as a treatment plan and was ineffective. A stimulator used in response to a failed back surgery is often serving to make life tolerable for the patient once more.

These stimulators are also used for patients who have one, or more, chronic compressed nerves; commonly as the result of permanent scar tissue resulting from another procedure. In cases where the scar tissue would just reoccur if removed, a stimulator can provide relief for the symptomatic pains of this nerve. Patients with other chronic forms of nerve damage may also find relief with this device.

How is a Spinal Cord Stimulator inserted?

Spinal Cord Stimulator San DiegoPatients will undergo a period with a trial device in order to measure their response to the electrical stimulation, and in order to see if relief can actually be obtained for that patient through the use of a stimulator. The trial typically lasts one week, and is always the first step taken before the insertion of the full device. If pain relief achieved with this trial device is at least 50% within the patient, a full implant may be undergone. It is also important for patients to undergo this trial period to measure the benefit of the device, as the proper device runs in the area of $15,000.

Once the trial period has ended, the full device can be inserted if the physician approves. This is a complex surgical procedure requiring the precise placement of the device on the spine, along with the insertion of a battery and a thin battery cable into the body.

How well do Spinal Cord Stimulators work?

Spinal cord stimulators are continually being improved upon as medical technology progresses. At this point in time, the procedure is effective within three-quarters of the patients who undergo it and is able to provide up to 84% pain relief (on average) for patients. Of the patients who do see a successful stimulator implant, about 80% are able to significantly reduce their opiate intake for pain management.

What are the risks of a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Spinal pain management San DiegoThe risks of this condition are very real, but are not normally dangerous for the patient. Common risks include a shift in the device once implanted, requiring further surgery to correct the placement. Drainage of the implantation site and infection are present risks as well, but are uncommon to find. The largest risk is simply for the treatment to not be effective.

What is the bottom line with Spinal Cord Stimulators?

Stimulators are one of the final options available to patients, and are a complex medical procedure with notable risks. While the effect they provide can be very beneficial to a patient, they should really only be used as a last resort.