If you suffer from chronic back pain or neck pain, your spine specialist will consider the cause and severity of your pain, and then recommend a treatment approach. Spinal cord stimulation is one therapy your doctor may recommend. This chronic pain treatment does not eliminate the source of pain. However, in most cases it significantly reduces the sensation of pain that you feel.
How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?
Spinal cord stimulation interrupts signals sent from the nerves in your spine to your brain. By the time the pain signals reach your brain and manifests as physical pain, they are weakened. Instead of severe pain, many patients feel a tingling sensation.
Pain interrupting signals are sent out from a battery-operated device called a spinal cord stimulator that a pain doctor implants under the skin. A small wire equipped with electrodes delivers mild pulses of electric to the nerves in the spinal cord. These pulses interfere with pain signals leaving the spine, causing them to be significantly weakened by the time they reach the brain. The patient turns the spinal cord stimulator on and off and adjusts the settings with a handheld remote-control unit.
Are You A Good Candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?
With so many effective pain relief options available, your doctor will conduct a thorough assessment before determining if spinal cord stimulation is right for you. Typically, this therapy is prescribed to treat patients who have undergone spine surgery or have tried other treatments and continue to suffer from chronic back or neck pain. A decades-old treatment, spinal cord stimulation is becoming more common as an effective way to treat pain without use of risky opioid medications.
Spinal cord stimulation is generally not recommended for patients who:
- Use certain types of cardiac pacemakers
- Have or are prone to developing infections in the area where the spinal stimulator would be implanted
- Suffer from severe depression or other psychiatric conditions that may be affecting pain
- Suffer from untreated drug addiction
- Suffer from certain bleeding disorders
Spinal Cord Stimulation is the Most Common Neuromodulation Treatment
Neuromodulation refers to altering nerve activity through targeted delivery of a stimulus, such as electrical stimulation, to specific neurological sites in the body. Spinal cord stimulation is, by far, the most-established and most widely used neuromodulation therapy. Spinal cord stimulation was first used to address chronic pain in the late 1960s and was approved in 1989 by the FDA as an effective and safe treatment for chronic pain.
Using neuromodulation therapies to treat debilitating pain have become more popular in recent years, especially as alternatives to prescription opioid pain medications. Additionally, more doctors and patients are opting for spinal cord stimulator “trial periods.” Because implanting the devices is a minor surgery and the devices can easily be removed, patients have the option to live with the implanted device for a period of time and decide if it is effective in reducing their pain.