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Spinal Cord Stimulators: The Solution to Chronic Pain

Picture this: You are a patient with chronic back pain. You decide to do something about your chronic back pain and see a doctor. You start with the simple treatments- medications, physical therapy, rest, ice and heat, and maybe even chiropractic care or acupuncture. But your pain lingers. You take the next step and undergo injections, nerve blocks, or radiofrequency treatments. Your pain persists. You decide to take the plunge and undergo spine surgery as a last resort. Months later after your body has healed from surgery, you still have back pain or leg pain, and you have started to think this chronic pain is something you’ll have to live with forever. However, there’s a solution for chronic pain when all else has failed: Spinal cord stimulation.

A spinal cord stimulator is a device that is implanted in your body that blocks the pain signals from your nerves to your brain to stop or diminish a painful sensation. Spinal cord stimulation does not fix the underlying cause of your pain, but it alters the way in which you feel the pain, therefore improving your overall quality of life.

Spinal cord stimulators consist of thin wires called electrodes, and a small battery pack called the generator, which is approximately the size of a pacemaker. The electrodes are placed between the vertebrae and the spinal cord, and the generator is placed under the skin, most often near the buttocks or abdomen. Patients with spinal cord stimulators can send electrical impulses using a remote control when they experience pain. In modern times, patients are able to sync their spinal cord stimulator to their phone or tablet and control the device that way instead of using a remote control. Traditional spinal cord stimulators replace the feeling of pain with a light tingling sensation called paresthesia, while newer devices offer “sub-perception” stimulation that cannot be felt.

To be a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator, you need to have failed conservative and you must undergo a psychiatric evaluation since the device is something that you control yourself and need to be able to monitor and pay attention to. Finally, you must undergo a spinal cord stimulator trial, where you doctor implants a temporary device to ensure that the permanent stimulator will work for you. Patients leave the trial stimulator in for about one week. If the patient experiences at least a 50% reduction in pain, they can be approved for the permanent device.

Who is a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator? The most common diagnosis for placement of spinal cord stimulators is failed back surgery syndrome, which simply means you underwent spine surgery and it did not relieve your pain. Other candidates have diagnoses such as complex regional pain syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, phantom limb pain, post-laminectomy syndrome, arachnoiditis, or simply chronic pain. 

Patients who have had a spinal cord stimulator placed have had remarkable results, with many patients seeing as much as 70% of a reduction in their pain. Better yet, these patients have been able to resume some of the activities they previously enjoyed before the onset of chronic pain. The doctors at Pacific Pain Physicians have successfully placed hundreds of spinal cord stimulators in their patients with great results. To learn more about spinal cord stimulation and to see if you or someone you know is a candidate, call Pacific Pain Physicians today to request an appointment with one of our skilled providers.

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