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Spinal Cord Stimulator for Pain Management

Carrying on with your normal life with chronic pain can be challenging. The persistent feeling of discomfort and pain, all day long, interferes with one’s day-to-day activities, leading to sleep problems, depression and anxiety. It’s surprising how this term has become a household name in the urban areas today. About 25% of the adult population in North America suffers from one or the other chronic pain conditions. There are numerous medications, therapies and surgeries that effectively manage chronic pain – Spinal Cord Stimulation being one of the most effective of them.

What are Spinal Cord Stimulators?

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According to Advanced Pain Care, a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a device surgically placed under the skin, near the abdomen or hip areas. It relieves pain in the spinal cord by sending a mild level of electrical current which is controlled with a remote controller. Spinal cord stimulators are made up of electrodes (thin wires) and a generator (artificial pacemaker battery). 

How Do They Work?

It is important to understand that a spinal stimulator implant does not treat pain. It only manipulates the way the brain perceives pain sensations. The thin wires carry currents from the generator to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. These currents target the painful area and prevent pain signals from reaching the brain, thereby providing relief to the patient. 

What is Spinal Cord Stimulation Used for?

Your doctor may recommend SCS to treat and manage:

  • Back Pain 
  • Abdominal or Perineal Pain
  • Heart Pain (Angina)
  • Injured Spinal Cord 
  • Post-surgical Pain
  • Arachnoiditis – Inflammation of the arachnoid, one of the membranes protecting the spinal cord nerves.
  • Diabetic Neuropathy (nerve damage caused by diabetes)
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease – A circulatory condition with reduced blood flow to the limbs as a result of narrowed blood vessels.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome – Chronic pain in limbs after surgeries, cardiac arrest, or an injury.

Types of Spinal Cord Stimulators – Traditional & Modern Devices 

The advancement in medical technology has made these stimulators more comfortable. In its early days, a spinal nerve stimulator replaced the pain in the spine with paresthesia, a mild tingling and pricking sensation. This, however, made some patients feel uneasy. Later, modern devices with sub-perception sensations came up that used high-frequency or a rapid series of pulses, reducing the discomfort.

Will Spinal Cord Stimulation Help You?

If you experience any of the previously-mentioned chronic pain conditions, you are likely to benefit from spinal cord stimulator surgery. Nevertheless, your doctor would decide if this treatment is right for you or not, keeping in mind the overall state of your health and other important factors. 

Spinal Cord Stimulation Procedure

After the neurosurgeon/pain specialist determines a patient’s eligibility for SCS, the initial trial begins. The patient is put under an unconscious state with the help of anesthesia. Temporary electrodes are placed to generate the electric current which is controlled externally. After a week or so, if the patient gives positive feedback on the treatment, the final process of spinal cord stimulator implant begins which takes approximately 1 hour. Here, the temporary electrodes are replaced with sterile electrodes and the generator. 

The doctor suggests the dos & don’ts until the full recovery period, which is usually around 6 to 8 weeks. It is an outpatient process and so, patients can go home after the effect of anesthesia wears off. A handheld remote control is given to the patients, allowing them to control the device – turning it up or down/ on or off. Follow-up visits with the physician are scheduled to alter the settings of the Spinal Cord Stimulator device, as and when required. This surgical treatment is a reversible process. The neurostimulator can be removed anytime without any damage to the spine and nerves.

Common Precautions with SCS

It’s important to take note of these commonly advised precautions after your SCS treatment.

  1. Do not operate any automobile or dangerous/heavy machinery when your SCS device is activated; as it demands absolute focus and control from its operator. Sudden changes in the stimulation can distract you while handling complex machines which is definitely dangerous.
  2. Keep the SCS remote controller with you at all times for adjusting the stimulation functions along with changes in your movement and postures. This ensures the prevention of any physical injury/discomfort.
  3. Avoid touching the stimulator unnecessarily to make sure that it doesn’t dislocate. In case you notice some changes in its position, immediately contact your doctor. 
  4. Certain medical procedures may cause some damage to the stimulator and so when you’re undergoing any medical test/ treatment, you should inform your physician about the implanted device.  
  5. Follow all the other precautionary measures recommended by your SCS specialist. 

Living with a spinal cord stimulator isn’t that difficult. With just a few measures, you can relive your active and pain-free life. 

Healthcare Business Today is a leading online publication that covers the business of healthcare. Our stories are written from those who are entrenched in this field and helping to shape the future of this industry. Healthcare Business Today offers readers access to fresh developments in health, medicine, science, and technology as well as the latest in patient news, with an emphasis on how these developments affect our lives.

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