Chronic pain affects millions of people in the U.S. For many of them, the pain is in some way related to the spine. There are numerous treatment options, ranging from pain medications to injection therapies. Spinal cord stimulation is a therapy that seems to work in a lot of cases.
While it might seem as though anything involving spinal cord manipulation is too risky to take a chance on, spinal cord stimulation has become fairly routine. It can be done safely by a trained physician who specializes in pain management.
Pain Signals and the Brain
The pain management doctors at Lone Star Pain Medicine, a Weatherford, TX pain medicine clinic, explain that spinal cord stimulation is based on our understanding of how pain signals reach the brain. The therapy is designed to interrupt those signals.
Pain is not a condition in and of itself. It is generally a symptom of some other condition. For example, consider arthritis in the spine. Arthritic joints in the back create pain the same way an arthritic knee or hip does. Bone grinding on bone sends signals to the brain, signals the brain perceives as pain.
If those signals never make it to the brain, a person will not experience pain. That is exactly what spinal cord stimulation is designed to accomplished. Pain signals are interrupted so that they never get to their intended destination.
Interrupted With Electrical Signals
Pain signals can be interrupted in a number of different ways. Anesthetic is one possible method. What makes spinal cord stimulation different is the use of low-voltage electrical pulses to intermittently stimulate the spinal cord. The resulting stimulation interrupts pain signals by masking them.
Affecting spinal cord stimulation therapy involves implanting a small electrical device into the body. The device consists of a pulse generator and two electrical leads. Those leads are implanted in the affected nerve. Once the device is turned on, it continually sends electrical pulses into the tissue.
Modern spinal cord stimulation devices can be controlled remotely using a mobile app or dedicated control device. This allows patients to increase or decrease the intensity of the electrical pulses as needed. In terms of what it feels like, patients often describe a pleasant tingling sensation.
An Out-Patient Procedure
Implanting a spinal cord stimulator involves a straightforward out-patient procedure. But before permanent implantation, a pain management doctor will recommend a temporary test with an external unit. If the external unit works as planned, the patient can go ahead with permanent implantation.
Both procedures are conducted in the doctor’s office. For the temporary procedure, a small incision is made in the back. The two electrical leads are fed through the incision and attached to the effected nerve. Medical tape holds the electrical device in place against the skin.
Permanent implantation involves a slightly larger incision necessary to insert the electrical device under the skin. It is secured in place and the leads are attached to the affected nerve. The device is turned on and the incision closed.
Some recovery time is required immediately after permanent implantation. And of course, the doctor will want to monitor for infection. The risk of infection is about the same as with any other procedure involving an incision or injection, but it is generally really nothing to worry about.
Spinal cord stimulation is one option for treating chronic pain. For patients who are not interested in long term pain medication or invasive surgeries, it is something to consider. Patients should be prepared to discuss things thoroughly with their physicians before any decision to go ahead with spinal cord stimulation.