What is spinal cord stimulation (SCS)?
If your back surgery has failed, and you experience chronic pain in the legs, arms and trunk, then you should know the FDA has approved a series of spinal cord stimulation devices that can help treat your condition. In order to replace the pain with paresthesia (tingling sensation), your selected nerve fibers (along the spinal cord) are electrically stimulated with the help of wired electrodes and an implanted device, part of the SCS therapy. If your nervous system is not functioning properly, or is damaged by an infection, disease, injury or other types of trauma, then your chronic pain may be decreased by spinal cord stimulation. SCS interrupts the pain signals from the spinal cord to the brain. You should know that SCS is not a cure for chronic pain, but it’s an alternative that will transform the pain into a more pleasant sensation.
Am I a candidate for SCS?
Usually, patients qualify for spinal cord stimulation if they suffer from chronic pain that other therapies have not able to treat and no surgical indication exists; here we mention less aggressive approaches such as medication, PT, opioids, and nerve blocks or surgery. Pain management doctors in Chicago will perform a workup to make sure the SCS is indicated.
The SCS system: devices and implantation
The components of an SCS system are: the generator (neurostimulating device), the lead (thin wire), the patient controller (remote control) and the programmer (device used by doctors). During an SCS implantation, depending on the patient’s pain pattern, a small needle or surgery is used to insert one or more wires (leads) into the epidural space around the spinal cord. The neurostimulator is then placed in the abdomen or the buttock, under the skin, and it connects the other ends of the implanted wires. Once everything is installed, in order to communicate with the neurostimulator and to assure the stimulation is properly tuned, the system is adjusted by qualified personnel with the help of an external programmer. Before going ahead with a permanent implant, all patients are required to go through a trial phase; the only difference is that although the wires are still implanted, the neurotransmitter is external. If the trial is successful and you go on to the next stage, the entire procedure will between 1 to 2 hours and is performed under general anesthesia so that you are asleep and feel no pain during the procedure.
What are the benefits and limitations of SCS?
Chicago pain doctors recommend spinal cord stimulation because it’s completely reversible, has limited side effects and with time, and it reduces the overall costs associated with alleviating your pain. The implantation procedure is fairly simple, and overall the system can improve pain relief, reduce the use of medication, and improve the quality of life by increasing activity levels.