Spinal Cord Stimulator: How It Treats Chronic Pain

January 30, 2020

With a spinal cord stimulator, you can reduce the amount of pain you experience. This device uses electrical pulses to mask pain signals before the pain signals are able to reach your brain. Because of this effect, the device is ideal for people who have chronic pain in their back, arms, or legs. If you are trying to reduce the number of opioids you take, this may also be an ideal treatment for you.

How Spinal Cord Stimulation Works

A spinal stimulator is about the size of a pacemaker. During a surgical procedure, it is placed underneath your skin. Once the stimulator is in place, thin wires carry the stimulator's current to your nerve fibers. Then, the spinal cord stimulator sends a mild electric current through the nerve fibers and into the spinal cord.

When the spinal cord stimulator is on, it works to stimulate and modify the electrical pulses in your nerves. Normally, these nerves are responsible for sending pain signals to your brain. Since the stimulator causes electrical pulses to override the pain signals, it essentially masks the pain signal so that your brain does not process it properly.

Technically, the pain is still present. The only difference is that your brain does not receive the signal properly. Depending on the unique individual, this masking may be more or less effective. A majority of patients who have the spinal stimulator procedure say it significantly reduces pain.

What Kind of Spinal Cord Stimulator is Best?

There are several kinds of spinal cord stimulators, but they all involve a fairly similar concept. Each spinal cord stimulator comes with a pulse generator and a battery for making the electrical pulse. They also include a hand-held remote for changing the device's settings. Each spinal cord stimulator is designed with a lead wire and electrodes for sending the electrical pulses to the spinal cord.

If you get a system with a non-rechargeable battery, you will need to have it surgically replaced every two to five years. Instead of a non-rechargeable system, you can get one with a rechargeable battery. This kind of system can last for 8 to 10 years, but you will need to charge it each day.

Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation

The main benefit of this system is that it reduces your pain levels. It does not actually get rid of your pain. Instead, it changes the way your brain perceives pain. Because you experience less pain, you can reduce the number of opioids you take each day. In addition, a spinal cord stimulator can make it easier for you to carry out daily activities without being in constant pain.

The Bottom Line on Spinal Cord Stimulators

Each person is different, so it is important to talk to your doctor about whether a spinal stimulator is right for you. In studies, spinal cord stimulators reduce pain by up to 50 to 70 percent. If you want an alternative to pain medication and a sustainable way of managing chronic pain, this device may be the right choice for you.

Have any questions about spinal cord stimulation? For answers or to be professionally treated, please contact our team at Greater Austin Pain Center. We're proud to offer Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery in addition to the dozens of other pain treatment surgeries available at our Plum Creek Pain Surgery Center, and can determine if you're a good candidate following a short in-person consultation.

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Lunch & Learn With Our Doctors

Curious about Spinal Cord and Peripheral Nerve Stimulation? Join our doctors for an in-person lunch and learn session to find out more about these treatments and ask any questions you may have. This event will be 12–1pm, sign up below to receive more details and RSVP.

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