If you’re living with chronic pain, you may be wondering whether spinal cord stimulation really works to get rid of pain. Spinal cord stimulation is a unique therapy that can block pain from arthritis, bulging discs, and other spinal issues. Read on to find out how this happens and discover if you’re a good candidate for this treatment.
What Is Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Before we dive into all the specifics of spinal cord stimulation and whether it really works, let’s talk some about what it is. Spinal cord stimulation is a treatment for chronic back pain that hasn’t responded to other treatment options. It works by interrupting back and neck pain signals before they reach your brain.
A spinal cord stimulator is a small implanted device that sits underneath your skin and has tiny medical wires that lead into the epidural space near your spine. The stimulator sends mild electrical impulses up your spinal cord to your brain. Because these signals travel faster than pain signals, it interrupts or blocks the pain signals from reaching your brain.
The signals from the stimulator create a soothing sensation, called paresthesia. This helps patients know that the stimulator is working. The spine specialists in Denver at Neurosurgery One use the Boston Scientific spinal cord stimulation system. This system allows you to choose what kind of sensation you would like to feel — you can even opt to turn off the paresthesia so you don’t feel anything.
Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Really Work?
So now the question of the hour: Does spinal cord stimulation really work all the time? The unfortunate truth is that almost no treatment can get rid of all back pain caused by certain conditions. It is, for example, almost impossible to get rids of years and years of arthritis. However, for the right types of pain, spinal cord stimulation does really work and can relieve a good amount of your chronic pain.
There have been several studies looking at spinal cord stimulation and how effective it is for chronic pain patients. In general, these studies show a large improvement in pain levels for patients receiving this treatment. In fact, 50 to 80 percent of patients report a reduction in their pain of up to 70 percent. Other studies show an even greater reduction in chronic pain.
In some cases, the results of spinal cord stimulation can be life-changing. As many as 24 percent of patients who couldn’t work before the operation are able to return to work once they have their implant. Others say they can enjoy more time with their family and doing activities they used to love as well.
A good feature about spinal cord stimulation is that you are able to try out a temporary external stimulator to make sure it works to relieve your pain before your spine surgeon implants the device.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Unfortunately, spinal cord stimulation isn’t a magic bullet for everyone living with chronic back pain or neck pain. In general, doctors want to try other, less invasive treatment options before turning to spinal cord stimulation. If you can manage your pain with medications, less invasive pain management procedures, or back pain surgery, that may be the better route to go.
Doctors will want to make sure spinal cord stimulation candidates don’t have untreated psychological disorders, such as depression or substance addiction. You also can’t have medical conditions that would cause problems with the procedure or the device.
When Is It Recommended?
Your doctor may recommend spinal cord stimulation in a few different circumstances. This treatment works well for patients living with chronic pain because of arthritis, spinal stenosis, or nerve damage. It also is a good option for if you have painful peripheral neuropathy, failed back surgery syndrome, and many other conditions.
Some doctors may recommend a spinal cord stimulator for patients who can’t have more complicated surgeries. There are also some cases where a large, complex surgery will cause more problems for you than getting a spinal cord stimulator. In all cases, this treatment should be recommended only when more conservative options have failed.
How long will a spinal cord stimulator work?
The spinal cord stimulator used by Neurosurgery One spine surgeons in Denver works off of a rechargeable battery. You can decide when to recharge based on your daily life. For instance, some people choose to recharge while they are watching a favorite weekly TV show. You will have a wireless remote that alerts you when your implant battery is low and needs recharging.
Recharging is simple. You can use an adhesive patch or soft cloth belt to hold the recharger in place over the device. The charger is small, lightweight, and wireless.
The life expectancy of a spinal cord stimulator is generally 10 to 25 years. This range will depend in part on how often you recharge your stimulator and what sort of stresses it undergoes. While some spinal cord stimulators prevent patients from having MRIs due to electromagnetic interference, the type of stimulator used by Neurosurgery One is MRI compatible under specified conditions. Patients can have other imaging procedures, including X-ray, CT and PET scans, and ultrasound.
Learn More About Spinal Cord Stimulation
Spinal cord stimulation can be a great way to get relief from chronic lower back pain when everything else has failed. Most patients report a significant improvement in their pain levels after having one implanted. However, this treatment is not for everyone, so talk to an experienced spine surgeon about whether you are a good candidate for the procedure.
If you are interested in learning more about spinal cord stimulation in Denver and whether you are a candidate, Neurosurgery One offers appointments within 10 days with a nurse practitioner who can answer your questions and assess your condition. These appointments are available at Neurosurgery One Littleton, Neurosurgery One Lakewood, and via telehealth (for Colorado patients). Please request an appointment for the Spinal Cord Stimulator Clinic by completing the form below.