If you have undergone surgery or if you want to try another treatment for your back or neck pain, you can consider getting a spinal cord stimulator implant. The recent statistics shows that around 14,000 patients around the world undergo such implant each year.
How does spinal cord stimulation work? It works by sending low voltage stimulation to the spine which blocks the sensation or feeling of pain. This involves implanting a small device inside the body of the patient. This device is designed to transmit a low voltage electrical current to the spinal cord. When the device is turned on, the patient will feel a mild tingling in the area where pain is usually felt. This makes it helpful for patients in managing the symptoms and decreasing the pain. It is commonly used by patients who have undergone back, leg or arm surgeries or other treatments but to no avail.
What Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
This is a device known as the dorsal column stimulator. It is a small device that is surgically placed under the skin of the patient. This device is designed to send mild electric current or low voltage electricity to the spinal cord to numb off the pain or to block pain signals. The device has a small wire which carries the current to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. The patient will not feel the pain or will feel it less or a tingling sensation instead of the pain because the electrical current interrupts with the signal from reaching the brain and interpreting the pain.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery
The spinal cord stimulator implant may be for a trial period or permanent. Both are similar in many ways. However, they vary in the implantation of the generator. The following is the typical process of the implantation or surgery:
- The first part of the procedure is the administration of local anesthesia. After this, the patient is then sedated.
- The doctor creates a small incision and inserts a hollow needle through this into the area called epidural space, which is found around the spinal canal. This hollow needle has thin, insulated wires where electrical contacts are attached. This whole process is done using fluoroscopy as a guide. In other cases, part of the lamina may be removed to allow room for the placement of the implanted device called permanent leads. The lamina is a small bone that covers the back of the spinal cord.
- Permanent leads are mostly used for a trial period. In this step, the permanent leads are implanted into the body.
- The patient is awakened because this step requires patient participation. The patient and the doctor will work together to ensure the proper placement of the electrodes. When the leads are in place and the painful areas are well-covered, the patient is sedated again.
- Another small incision is made. This is where the generator will be fixed in place.
- The generator is placed under the skin through the incision. The usual spots for the generator are the upper chest, upper buttocks and abdomen. When choosing the spot, the doctor will ask the patient about which area is most comfortable. Comfort is very important because the generators can vary in size, and the large ones can be uncomfortable to the patient if placed in an unlikely location. The generator will stay inside the body for years. But it may be replaced at some point.
- The next step of the spinal cord stimulator implant is the tunneling of the wires from the leads to the generator. They are connected to enable the current to flow from the generator to the spinal cord.
- The last step is closing the incision. Recovery starts thereafter.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Recovery
Although this surgery is minimally invasive, the initial recovery period can be painful and uncomfortable. The patient can resume light activities two to three weeks after the surgery. However, normally, complete recovery takes up to eight weeks. But doctors advise that patients limit certain physical activities for about three months to avoid misplacement or movement of the implanted leads. After that, you can resume normal activities and enjoy living a life without or with less pain.
If you are planning to get spinal cord stimulator implant or if you have any other concerns regarding your back, neck, arm or leg pain, contact AZ Pain and Spine Institute. Make an appointment with us today.