Chronic back pain is miserable, especially neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain happens when an injury, illness or trauma upsets the central nervous system. Sharp stabbing pains can radiate into arms and legs. Even a pin-prick or touch can cause severe discomfort.
Spinal cord stimulation, or SCS, interrupts pain pathways, replacing pain sensations with a pleasant, tingling sensation called paresthesia. Each person feels the sensation a bit differently, but ‘tingling’ is the most common description.
What is a spinal cord stimulator?
It is a device with soft, thin wires and an external, portable generator.
Once it is in place, the generator sends small electrical pulses that interrupt pain signals with a mild, pleasant tingling sensation.
Who can benefit?
SCS is used for diabetic neuropathy, chronic pain after back surgery, and CRPS, or complex regional pain syndrome.
How is it placed in the body?
The device is placed on a trail basis first, to find out whether the stimulation is appropriate for you.
The trial placement is an office procedure done in a sterile setting. It takes very little time, about 30-45 minutes.
Local anesthesia is used and leads are positioned in the area of pain along the spinal cord using a thin needle. After the leads are in place, they are attached to the small, portable generator. Pulses generated are programmed to replace pain sensations with the pleasant tingling of paresthesia.
How long is the trial period?
The trial period may last several days, but no more than a week. The trial will help you to determine how well the stimulation works during an ordinary day of activity.
An important feature of an SCS system is control. A patient may adjust the current of the generator in response to severity of pain, making activities of daily living possible without discomfort. The system makes pastimes like gardening, swimming biking or traveling possible again. It may enable the elimination or reduction of pain medications.
What about long-term implantation?
If trials prove beneficial, the device is implanted in an outpatient surgical setting and takes about two hours. Although the treatment is labeled ‘long term’, the implanted parts are easily removed if no longer needed.
What can be expected with an SCS implantation?
Studies determine that 85-90 percent of patients report a 50-70 percent reduction in pain levels. Many of these persons say that they have experienced an increase in their ability to undertake normal activities again, leading to heightened sense of well-being and purpose.
There are many studies that indicate the effectiveness of SCS therapy to manage and control pain, as well as provide significant improvement in quality of life for those who have undergone treatment.