Spinal cord stimulators can be a great option for people experiencing chronic pain. For those who have decided to undergo spinal cord stimulator implant surgery or those who may still be on the fence, it is important to learn what to expect following surgery.
In this article, we will discuss spinal cord stimulators, who may benefit from them, and what to expect post-op.
Key Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant
There are many benefits that come with having a spinal cord stimulator implanted in your body if you are struggling with chronic pain. These include:
Reduced Pain Levels – The device sends electrical impulses directly into the spine which blocks out painful signals from reaching the brain. This allows you to feel less pain than before. It also helps reduce inflammation and swelling around nerves and joints.
Improved Quality Of Life – Having a spinal cord stimulator installed means that you no longer need to rely on opioids to manage your pain levels. You may find yourself feeling more energetic as well as being able to sleep better at night.
Increased Mobility – A spinal cord stimulator makes it easier to move about freely without worrying about pain. If you were previously limited by physical limitations due to pain, now you won't have to worry about them as much.
Decreased Need For Medication – Many patients find that they no longer need to rely on opioid pain medications to control their symptoms following spinal cord stimulator implantation. This is a welcome change for many patients. They will no longer have to deal with the side effects caused by opioid pain medications and they will be taking fewer medications in total.
For many patients, this is a life-changing procedure that allows them to live in less pain with greater independence and improved quality of life.
How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?
Spinal cord stimulators consist of thin wires called electrodes and a small generator that serves as a power source. The electrodes are surgically placed in the epidural space which is between the vertebrae and the spinal cord.
A spinal cord stimulator works by sending small pulses of electricity through the electrodes. This creates paraesthesia, a tingling sensation, which interferes with pain signals sent via nerve transmission.
There are three types of spinal cord stimulators.
1. Conventional implantable pulse generator (IPG). This stimulator is run by a battery that can only be replaced through surgery. This type of stimulator works well for patients who have pain in just one body part.
2. Rechargeable implantable pulse generator is the rechargeable version of the conventional implantable pulse generator. This stimulator is a good option for people experiencing low back pain. This is because it is able to transmit electrical signals over a larger area than the conventional model.
3. Radiofrequency stimulator. This stimulator operates using a battery that is kept outside of the body. These stimulators are rarely used today.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant Procedure
The procedure for a spinal cord stimulator surgery usually is as follows:
1. The patient will be sedated and a local anesthetic will be applied to the injection sites.
2. A hollow needle will be inserted into the epidural space around the spinal canal. This will be done with the help of an x-ray machine called a fluoroscope. Inside the needle are thin wires called leads. In some instances, a small incision will need to be made to make room for this needle.
3. A small section of the lamina, the bone covering the spinal cord, will be removed. This will help create space for placing the leads.
4. Next, the permanent leads will be placed. If the patient had permanent leads placed during their trial period then this step will not need to be repeated.
5. The patient will be awakened from sedation. The doctor will use input from the patient on where the best positioning for pain control is located.
6. To place the generator a small incision will be made. The generator will be placed under the skin either in the abdominal region, upper chest, or upper buttocks.
7. Next, the wires will be tunneled from the leads to the generator connecting them together.
8. Inscions are closed. The procedure usually takes about 2 hours in total. In some cases, the patient will be awake throughout the procedure. This is beneficial for patients who do not handle general anesthesia very well. Almost all patients who have undergone spinal stimulator implant surgery will be able to go home the same day.
How to Know if You are a Candidate for Spinal Stimulator Implant Surgery
Anyone suffering from severe pain could potentially benefit from receiving a spinal cord stimulator. However, only consultation with pain management specialists can determine if you are a candidate for spinal stimulator implant surgery. Spinal cord stimulators are used to treat patients with debilitating, treatment-resistant chronic pain in the trunk, limbs, or other body parts.
Spinal cord stimulators are most often provided to patients with- Degenerative Disc Disease
– Postlaminectomy Pain Syndrome
– Failed Back Syndrome
– Radicular Pain Syndrome
– Regional Pain Syndrome
– Severe Diabetic Neuropathy
– Other conditions that cause chronic pain
The broad criteria for individuals seeking pain relief from spinal cord stimulators are:
– at least 18 years of age
– can use and operate the stimulator system
– experiencing chronic pain that is physiological in origin (this means that the pain is not caused by a psychological condition)
– have a successful round of trial stimulation
Patients who are identified as good candidates for spinal cord stimulator therapy will undergo a trial period with a temporary spinal cord stimulator. During this time, doctors monitor whether the patient's pain improves after using the device. They then decide whether to proceed with the permanent placement of the device. For the trial to be considered a success, pain should be reduced by about 50 percent.
After Surgery Care and Maintenance
As with all surgeries, there are certain steps that should be taken to ensure healing and recovery.
This includes caring for the incision site. Luckily, the incision made for this procedure is small and minimally invasive. Care should be taken to keep the wound clean and dry until it has healed. It is usually recommended that patients avoid showering or baths for the first three days after surgery. Sponge baths are a good option during this time. Also, it is important to keep an eye on the incision site for signs of infection. This includes weeping and redness that radiates from the site.
Rest and avoiding excessive activity are important post-operation. For the first two weeks following the procedure do not:
– Lift items weighing more than 5 pounds
– Twist, bend or climb
– Raise arms above your head
– Move or pull on leads
Activity is most restricted in the first two weeks following the surgical procedure. In the weeks that follow, care should still be taken to not over-exert yourself.
Continuous Recovery After Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant Surgery
Most patients are able to resume most of their normal physical activity 8 weeks after surgery.
In the first 6 to 9 weeks post-op, work should be adjusted to lighter duty. If a patient's job requires heavy lifting or repetitive twists or bending, they may require more time before resuming these activities.
To get the most out of the benefits provided by a spinal cord stimulator implant and ensure proper healing patients should consistently participate in follow-up appointments with their doctor. In most cases, patients will have an appointment one week after surgery to check incision sites and manage any pain medications. Another follow-up appointment will be scheduled 2 weeks after the procedure to take x-ray images of the spine and to go over operating instructions.
Physical therapy is also recommended to aid in the long-term recovery process.
Work With a Pain Management Specialist in MidSouth Paint Treatment Center
If you are experiencing chronic pain that is resistant to treatment, then a spinal cord stimulator might be able to provide the relief you need.
Spinal cord stimulators have been proven to decrease the amount of persistent pain patients experience. This results in an increased quality of life, more independence, and less need for pain medications.
Because spinal cord stimulator implant surgery is minimally invasive, recovery is usually not complicated. In most cases, normal activities can be resumed after 8 weeks.
To determine if you are a good candidate for a spinal cord stimulator, contact the pain management experts at MidSouth Pain.