Spinal Cord Stimulator: How It Treats Chronic Pain
June 16, 2022
Are you struggling to manage chronic pain? Spinal cord stimulation may be the answer you're looking for. A spinal cord stimulator is a device that uses electrical pulses to mask pain signals before your brain can sense them, making it an effective pain-reducing solution for chronic pain of all kinds. In this blog, follow along as we provide an overview of how spinal cord stimulation works and what kinds of pain it can be used to treat.
How Spinal Cord Stimulation Works
A spinal stimulator is about the size of a pacemaker. Once the stimulator is in place, thin wires carry the stimulator's current to your nerve fibers, which then carry the signal to your 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 your pain signals, it masks the pain signal so that your brain doesn’t process it.
Depending on the unique individual, this masking may be more or less effective. Research shows that spinal cord stimulation tends to reduce pain by up to 50 to 70 percent, but the vast majority of our patients who have had the procedure say it significantly reduces their pain.
The Different Kinds of Spinal Cord Stimulators
The most common method used for spinal cord stimulation is what’s called a high-frequency pulse generator. This device sends a series of high-frequency electrical pulses to a specific area of the spinal cord, and is most often used to treat chronic pain. Another type of stimulator is the waveform pulse generator, which sends a rhythmic sequence of electrical pulses to the spinal cord. This is often used to help control spasms and involuntary muscle contractions that often contribute to forms of chronic pain.
Spinal cord stimulators may be either implanted or external. Implantable spinal cord stimulators are surgically implanted in the abdomen or spine, and are connected to electrodes running along the spinal cord. They also run on a non-rechargeable battery, so they need to be replaced every 2 to 5 years. External stimulators are worn on the outside of the body, and are connected to electrodes taped to the skin. These often come with a rechargeable battery and can last for up to 8 to 10 years before you need to replace them.
At the Greater Austin Pain Center, our certified pain specialists can discuss all the treatment options available to help treat and manage your chronic pain, and work with you to develop an individualized plan of care to give you the best outcome.
While there are several kinds of spinal cord stimulators, it’s important to know that they effectively all work the same way. Every kind of spinal cord stimulator comes with a pulse generator and a battery for making the electrical pulse. The stimulator is designed with a lead wire and electrodes for sending the electrical pulses to the spinal cord and nerves. The energy is then sent through the electrodes to the spinal cord, which serves as the communication pathway between the brain and the rest of the body.
The Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation
By changing the way in which your brain perceives pain, stimulation can help you experience less pain, and reduce the amount of pain medication you take. In addition, it can also make it easier for you to carry out daily activities without being in constant pain, which can help you to be more productive, more mobile, and happier.
Who May Benefit from Spinal Cord Stimulation
Generally speaking, spinal cord stimulation therapy has been found to be most beneficial for those who have not experienced sufficient relief from other forms of pain relief such as medications, prior surgeries, or less-invasive therapies, and who do not have psychiatric disorders that would reduce the efficacy of the procedure. We recommend a trial period where the spinal cord stimulator device is not implanted and it is active outside the body to ensure this treatment is a solution for your individual case before surgically implanting the device.
The Kinds of Pain Spinal Cord Stimulation Treats
Spinal cord stimulation is one of the most promising treatments available for those with chronic pain. By providing electrical pulses that mask pain signals before they reach the brain, it can alleviate chronic pain of all types, including back pain, neck pain, leg pain, arm pain, and more. It’s also regularly used to treat spinal cord injuries, nerve pain, peripheral vascular disease, and post surgical pain.
The Bottom Line on Spinal Cord Stimulation
If you want an alternative to pain medication and a sustainable way of managing chronic pain, spinal cord stimulation therapy may be the right choice for you. That said, it’s important to speak to a pain specialist about the benefits and risks of this type of therapy to determine if it is the right approach for you.
Get Spinal Cord Stimulation Therapy in Austin Texas!
At the Greater Austin Pain Center, our certified pain doctors can discuss all the pain treatment options available to treat and manage your chronic pain, and work with you to develop an individualized plan of care to give you the best outcome.
We're proud to offer Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery with a preliminary trial period before it's implanted in addition to dozens of other pain treatment surgeries at our Plum Creek Pain Surgery Center, and can determine if you're a good candidate following a short in-person consultation.
Contact us today to get started!