What You Need to Know Before Getting a Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant

Are you considering a Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant as a solution for chronic pain? This innovative treatment option can be a game-changer, but it’s important to fully understand what the journey entails. Our guide aims to shed light on the purpose of this unique medical device and help you navigate the path ahead.

Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants are devices designed to ease chronic pain in many parts of the body by sending mild electrical signals to the spinal cord. These signals interrupt the pain messages sent to the brain, bringing potential relief to those who have not found success with other treatment methods. Understanding the purpose of this implant is the first step in assessing whether this treatment could be the key to unlocking a life with less pain.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of spinal cord stimulation, help you determine if you’re a good candidate, and prepare you for the procedure itself. We’ll also discuss potential risks and complications, post-procedure care, and what life looks like after the implantation. Here’s everything you need to know, one step at a time.

The Basics of Spinal Cord Stimulation

Before we delve into the intricate details of spinal cord stimulation, it’s crucial to grasp its fundamental concepts. This innovative medical approach, as explained by Hopkins Medicine, has been a beacon of hope for many living with chronic pain. Our journey begins with understanding what a Spinal Cord Stimulator is and how it works.

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

A Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) is an implanted device designed to alleviate chronic pain. It achieves this by delivering low levels of electrical current directly to the spinal cord. The device consists of a pulse generator, which is implanted under the skin, typically in the lower back or abdomen. This generator sends electrical pulses to the spinal cord via a lead wire with electrodes.

As mentioned on the Cleveland Clinic’s website, the SCS is not a cure for pain; instead, it changes the way your body perceives it. By interrupting the pain signals before they reach the brain, the SCS can significantly reduce the sensation of pain, offering relief to individuals who have not found success with other treatments.

How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Work?

The working principle of a Spinal Cord Stimulator is based on the gate control theory of pain. This theory suggests that non-painful input, like the mild electrical pulses from the SCS, can close the “gates” to painful input, preventing pain sensation from traveling to the central nervous system.

According to Practical Pain Management, when the device is activated, it sends electrical pulses to the spinal cord. These pulses interfere with the nerve pathways that transmit pain signals to your brain. Instead of feeling pain, you may feel a slight tingling sensation known as paresthesia. This alteration in pain perception helps to manage and control chronic pain conditions.

In the following chapters, we’ll explore who might be a good candidate for a Spinal Cord Stimulator, how to prepare for the procedure, and what to expect during recovery.

Determining Your Candidacy

As we traverse further down the path of understanding Spinal Cord Stimulators, it’s essential to determine who can benefit from this treatment. In this chapter, we’ll explore the ideal candidates for Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants and the various conditions that these devices can treat.

Who is a Good Candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants?

According to Dr. John Staige Davis, a renowned pain management specialist at Hopkins Medicine, the ideal candidates for Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants are those who:

  • Have chronic pain in the back, limbs, or trunk, or nerve-related pain.
  • Have not found relief from other treatments.
  • Do not have untreated depression or drug addiction.
  • Are not currently on high doses of pain medication.
  • Have had a successful spinal cord stimulator trial.

It’s important to note that Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants are usually considered only after conservative treatments have failed. They are not typically the first line of treatment.

Conditions Treated by Spinal Cord Stimulators

Spinal Cord Stimulators are effective in treating a variety of chronic pain conditions. As explained by Dr. Christopher M. Bernards, a leading anesthesiologist and pain medicine specialist, some of the conditions that can be treated with Spinal Cord Stimulators include:

  • Chronic Back and Neck Pain: This includes pain that persists after back or neck surgery.
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: A chronic pain condition affecting the arms, legs, hands, or feet, usually after an injury or trauma to that part of the body.
  • Peripheral Neuropathy: A result of damage to the peripheral nerves, often causing weakness, numbness, and pain, usually in the hands and feet.
  • Arachnoiditis: A pain disorder caused by the inflammation of the arachnoid, one of the membranes that surround and protect the nerves of the spinal cord.
  • Angina: Chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.

It’s important to remember that while Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants can provide significant relief from chronic pain, they are not a cure. They simply manage the symptoms, making the pain more tolerable for the patient.

Preparing for the Procedure

Proper preparation is a crucial part of any medical procedure. In the case of a Spinal Cord Stimulator implant, this involves initial consultations, pre-procedure tests, and mental and emotional readiness. This chapter will guide you through these steps, drawing from expert sources.

Initial Consultation and Evaluation

The journey to getting a Spinal Cord Stimulator implant begins with an initial consultation and evaluation. According to Stanford Medicine:

  • Understand Your Procedure: It’s essential to fully understand what the procedure entails. This includes knowing how the device works, what the implantation process is like, and what to expect post-implantation.
  • Discuss Your Medical History: Be ready to discuss your complete medical history with your doctor, including any past surgeries or treatments, allergies, or other health conditions. This information helps your physician tailor the treatment plan to your specific needs.
  • Ask About Medication: Discuss any current medications you’re taking, as certain drugs may need to be discontinued or adjusted before the procedure.
  • Discuss Risks and Benefits: Understanding the potential risks and benefits of the procedure is fundamental. This will help you make an informed decision about whether to proceed with the implant.

Pre-Procedure Medical Tests and Assessments

Before the implant procedure, you’ll undergo several medical tests and assessments. As mentioned by Dr. Robert Cima, a surgeon at Mayo Clinic Health System:

  • Routine Blood Work: Routine blood tests are generally done to assess your overall health and ensure that you’re fit for surgery. These tests can provide valuable information about your blood count, kidney function, and more.
  • Imaging Tests: Imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs might be necessary to get a clear picture of your spinal cord. These images help the surgical team plan the procedure.
  • Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination will be conducted to ensure you’re physically fit for the procedure. This may involve checking your vital signs, listening to your heart and lungs, and more.
  • Anesthesia Evaluation: An anesthesia evaluation is done to determine the best type of anesthesia for you. This involves assessing your medical history, medications, allergies, and other factors.

Mental and Emotional Preparation

Mental and emotional preparation is a significant part of getting ready for your procedure. As Carmelita Swiner, MD suggests:

  • Educating Yourself: Learn as much as you can about the procedure. Knowledge is power, and understanding what to expect can help alleviate anxiety or fear.
  • Setting Realistic Expectations: Understand that the implant is not a cure, but a tool to manage pain. It’s important to have realistic expectations about what the device can and cannot do.
  • Stress Management: Practice stress management techniques such as meditation or deep breathing exercises. These can help calm your mind and prepare you mentally for surgery.
  • Support System: Ensure you have a strong support system in place. Having friends or family members who understand what you’re going through can provide immense emotional support.

Understanding the Procedure

When preparing for a Spinal Cord Stimulator implantation, understanding the procedure is crucial. This includes knowing what to expect during each step and how your comfort and safety will be ensured. This chapter will guide you through these aspects, backed by expert sources.

Step-by-Step Guide to Spinal Cord Stimulator Implantation

Spinal cord stimulator implantation is a process that usually involves two procedures. National Library of Medicine, a pain management specialist at Hopkins Medicine, provides an overview of the steps involved:

  • Trial Procedure: The first step is a “trial” procedure where temporary leads are placed near your spinal cord. This trial period, which typically lasts about a week, allows you and your doctor to determine if the device effectively manages your pain.
  • Permanent Implantation: If the trial is successful, you’ll undergo surgery to place a permanent stimulator. This involves making a small incision in your back to insert the leads, and another near your waist or buttock to implant the generator that powers the device.
  • Device Activation: After the procedure, your doctor will program the device and show you how to control it. This allows you to adjust the level of stimulation depending on your pain levels.

Anesthesia and Patient Comfort During the Procedure

Ensuring patient comfort during the procedure is a top priority for medical professionals. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System:

  • Type of Anesthesia: The type of anesthesia used during the procedure can vary. In most cases, local anesthesia and mild sedation are used. This keeps you comfortable and relaxed but awake and able to provide feedback during the procedure.
  • Pain Management: Pain management after the procedure is crucial. Your doctor will likely prescribe medication to help manage any discomfort you may experience following the implantation.
  • Follow-Up Care: Regular follow-up appointments will be scheduled to monitor your progress, adjust the device settings if needed, and ensure that you’re healing properly.

Risks and Potential Complications

Like any other medical procedure, Spinal Cord Stimulator implantation comes with its own set of potential risks and complications. It is important to understand these factors to make an informed decision about your treatment. In this chapter, we will discuss common risks and potential complications, drawing from expert sources.

Common Risks Associated with Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants

As with any surgical procedure, there are inherent risks related to Spinal Cord Stimulator implantation. NCBI outlines some of the most common:

  • Infection: As with any surgical procedure, there is a risk of infection. This usually occurs in the first few weeks post-surgery.
  • Bleeding: Bleeding can occur during or after the procedure. While minor bleeding is normal, significant bleeding can lead to complications.
  • Lead Migration: Lead migration refers to the electrodes moving from their original position. This can cause changes in the device’s effectiveness.
  • Device Malfunction: Although rare, there can be instances of hardware malfunction, including intermittent stimulation, over or under-stimulation, or lead breakage.

Potential Complications and How They’re Managed

While the risks associated with Spinal Cord Stimulator implants are generally low, potential complications can arise. According to Oxford Academic:

  • Pain Over the Implant: Some patients may experience discomfort or pain over the implanted device. This is usually managed with pain medication and typically subsides as the body heals.
  • Dural Puncture: A dural puncture is a serious complication where the protective layer around the spinal cord is accidentally punctured. This requires immediate medical attention.
  • Jolting or Sudden Shock: In rare instances, the device may cause a jolting or sudden shock sensation. If this happens, it’s crucial to contact your doctor immediately for a device adjustment.
  • Increased Pain: Some patients may experience increased pain after the procedure. This can often be managed through medication and device adjustments.

The Power of Informed Decisions

It’s important to remember that knowledge is power. The journey towards getting a Spinal Cord Stimulator implant may seem daunting, but being equipped with the right information can make the process less intimidating. Understanding the procedure, its benefits, potential risks, and how to manage them are key steps towards a successful outcome. 

The journey towards pain management is deeply personal, and it’s essential to make decisions that reflect your unique circumstances and needs. With the aid of trusted medical professionals and a strong support system, facing this journey can be a transformative experience toward improved quality of life.

Leave a Reply