Spinal Cord Stimulator
According to a study by the National Institutes for Health, 25.3 million adults in the U.S — 11.2 percent of the adult population — said they experience pain symptoms every day for the past three months. This ongoing pain is called “chronic pain” and is in contrast to “acute pain” which may start with an injury and then disappear as the injury resolves.
There can be many reasons for chronic pain. In the area of back and neck pain, those patients who have had spine surgery that didn’t relieve symptoms are often referred to as “failed back surgery syndrome.” Failed back surgery syndrome can be caused by scarring around a nerve root that then is hypersensitive and transmits pain signals to the brain.
Chronic pain causes physical and emotional suffering, time off work and dependence upon drugs that can damage internal organs and shorten one’s lifespan.
Neuromodulation with Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is one of the most exciting developments in chronic pain management. It has been used for approximately four decades in treating chronic neuropathic pains that have been refractory to other conventional treatments
For those with chronic pain, the typical options for relief include:
- Another surgery which may or may not work, or even cause more pain symptoms.
- Dependence upon a constant oral medications that attempt to mask and dull the pain signals to the brain. These drugs however do not address the “pain generator” and simply dull the pain signals while, in some cases, causing serious side effects.
- Injections that attempt to place medication directly near the pain generator, typically near the level in the spinal cord by the damaged or injured nerve root that is the suspected “pain generator”.
The final option that can be provided to those with chronic pain is Spinal Cord Stimulation. Spinal cord stimulation is based on the “gate theory” of pain, where a pulse generator delivers mild electrical pulses to the spine at precise intervals where a wave of pain would normally be transmitted to the brain. The person then feels a tingling sensation rather than a wave of pain.
Said another way, the pain signal is being interrupted on the way to the brain, which can eliminate or reduce the need for drugs.
The trained neurosurgeon implants a small stimulator device, much like a heart pacemaker, under the skin by the upper buttock or adbdomen to deliver these electrical pulses. The spinal cord stimulation system also includes a handheld programming device that acts as a remote control and wire leads that are attached under the skin to the level of the spine causing the pain signal.
Spinal Cord Stimulation requies patients to go through a screening procedure that applies the leads to the level of the spine on the exterior of the skin before the device is implanted under the skin. This enables the neurosurgeon to determine if the device will be effective and the exact position of the wire leads on the spine that provides the best relief of pain.