illustrations of a human spinal cord

How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is a procedure you may have heard of if you have chronic pain. This process involves surgically inserting a device under your skin to send electrical signals to the brain, blocking pain responses.

Looking into SCS can provide hope, but it can also feel daunting. That’s why we’re here to break down the ins and outs of what you need to know.

What Causes Chronic Back Pain?

To understand how SCS helps chronic pain, it’s important to understand what first causes it. Glial cells are key contributors, as they send pain signals to the brain through the spinal cord. They can also contribute to pro-inflammatory responses, and inflame chronic pain sites.

These glial cell signals can be manipulated, however, with an SCS procedure.

How does Spinal Cord Stimulation Help?

An SCS system targets glial cells, modifying their pain signals to the brain. The procedure involves connecting a small device to thin wire leads that are implanted into a specific area in your back, continuously sending electrical pulses to the correct glial cells.

Even if it does not remove a pain’s source, research shows that 92.4% of patients who received SCS were satisfied with the results. While each patient experiences unique pain (and therefore a unique relief), SCS is considered successful when your pain is reduced at least by 50%.

How Patients Get Started

If you qualify for SCS, you will first undergo a trial procedure. During this phase, at least one insulated wire lead is placed through an epidural needle into your spinal canal. The needles are removed, leaving the wires in place and the wires are attached to an external battery — called a trial stimulator.

Once the leads and trial stimulator are connected, you and your physician will monitor your pain levels for about seven days. After this trial period, the lead is removed. If the relief is deemed sufficient, you may move forward with the permanent procedure.

The Permanent Procedure

The permanent procedure is not as daunting as it may sound. You can expect to go home the same day once these three steps are complete:

  1. Permanent leads are inserted into your spine. This is done with an epidural needle through a small incision.
  2. Another small incision is then made to insert the implantable pulse generator (IPG) beneath the skin, usually on the buttocks or abdomen. The leads are then connected to the IPG battery.
  3. Finally, a wireless electrical control unit programs the IPG’s electrical pulses. This way, you can turn the system on or off using the external control unit, or change its stimulation power.

After the Procedure

You may experience discomfort and swelling around the incision site for a few days. Once the incision has healed, you will be able to continue your daily activities, with less pain and discomfort.

Potential Risk

A 2011 retrospective review of SCS reported that hardware complications were the most common defaults in SCS procedures. Some patients (22.6%) experienced lead migration, where the wires shifted after time. Others (12%) experienced pain at the generator site.

Overall, SCS procedures are very safe, with few complications, and deaths or neurological deficits only rarely reported.

Who is Spinal Cord Stimulation Good For?

You may be a candidate for SCS if you have pain resulting from previous back or neck surgery,  diabetic neuropathy, or other chronic back, lower body, and arm pain.

Deciding the Best Spinal Cord Stimulator Device to Use

With the rapidly technology improvements for spinal cord stimulation, Alliance works closely with the top medical device companies as they advance their SCS systems. This industry’s innovative interventional pain management systems continuously improve to offer more benefits to a wider range of people needing this treatment.

Alliance physicians determine the type of SCS system for their patients based the patient’s type of pain and its source. Here are a few examples of the wide range of SCS treatment options that Alliance offers:

  • The HFX Solution treatment, the only spinal cord stimulation system approved by the FDA that uses high frequency stimulation to manage pain associated with diabetic neuropathy, or other chronic pain.
  • Nalu Neuromodulation training, a new device that will allow our physicians to help target pain through Peripheral Nerve Stimulation and Spinal Cord Stimulation using a generator that is ultra-small.
  • Medtronic DTM™ (Differential Target Multiplexed), a Spinal Cord Stimulation waveform to help treat patients with chronic, intractable low back pain.
  • Evoke® Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) System, a new investigational device designed to measure and record your body’s response to stimulation and makes millions of automatic, real-time adjustments to maintain a consistent level of pain relief.

If you are considering SCS, connect with Alliance Spine & Pain Centers. We understand the challenge of finding chronic pain relief, and our experts will help you find the answers. To schedule an appointment, Give us a call at 770-929-9033 or visit us online.