Spinal cord stimulators are medical devices implanted into the spine to treat pain sensations that keep you from living an active life. Nearly 50,000 spinal cord stimulators are implanted every year, because it’s a safe treatment that can give you the opportunity to reduce or stop medication while experiencing less pain.
At Edward Carden, MD, located in Sherman Oaks, California, Dr. Carden and our team specialize in interventional therapies that effectively relieve chronic back pain, and advanced spinal cord stimulation is rapidly becoming a preferred option for relieving pain. If back pain is keeping you from your favorite activities, we can help you get back to an active life.
How advanced spinal cord stimulation treats pain
Spinal cord stimulators address back pain using mild electrical stimulation. This process, called neurostimulation, alters nerve activity. It can dull pain sensations by blocking or masking the nerve signals sending pain messages to your brain.
When you feel pain, sensory receptors in your body send a message through a nerve to your spine. The nerve carries the pain signal to your brain, and your brain interprets the message and tells you to feel pain.
But, you can’t feel pain if your brain doesn’t receive the pain signal — even if the source of the pain still exists. That’s how spinal cord stimulation works. It interrupts the message by blocking nerve signals. While spinal cord stimulation doesn’t cure the source of the problem, it blocks pain sensations so you’re no longer limited by it.
Getting a spinal cord stimulator implanted
Spinal cord stimulators generally have three components. The first piece is a small pulse generator that has a battery. If Dr. Carden determines that a spinal cord stimulator is a good treatment option for you, we implant the generator under your skin in an area that’s comfortable for you.
The second component is a flexible wire with multiple leads. To implant it, we make an incision and use fluoroscopic imaging to gently guide the wire along the side of your spine, threading it upward until it’s in a position where the leads can target the nerves carrying your pain signals. Then we connect the wire to the generator.
The final piece is a remote control that turns the generator on and off. The controller can be programmed and both the frequency and strength of the electrical impulses can be changed to customize your treatment.
After implantation, we turn the generator on. When in use, the stimulator generates electrical impulses that block or mask signals traveling along the targeted nerves to quiet your pain.
Before completely implanting the stimulator, you can try it out. We insert the leads, but not the generator. You wear the generator around your waist for about a week and test it to see if it effectively relieves your pain.
If your trial is successful, we move ahead with the process and implant the generator. But if you aren’t satisfied with the level of pain relief achieved, we can remove the wires without causing any harm to your spinal cord. At that point, Dr. Carden can work with you to try other pain relief options.
What to expect with spinal cord stimulation therapy
Although spinal cord stimulators are effective, each patient’s pain is different. Some people achieve nearly complete pain relief, while others find that their trials aren’t successful.
The goal is to reduce your back pain enough that you can become more active and stay engaged in your daily activities without disabling pain. In many cases, our patients are also able to reduce or completely stop using pain medications with the help of spinal cord stimulation.
Spinal cord stimulation can relieve chronic back pain caused by many conditions, such as:
- Herniated disc
- Slipped disc
- Disc degeneration
- Failed back surgery
- Spinal stenosis (narrowed spinal canal)
But, neurostimulation isn’t the first line of treatment Dr. Carden recommends. You might be a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation if you meet the following criteria:
- Conservative therapies failed to relieve your pain
- You wouldn’t benefit from surgery
- You don’t want surgery due to the risks
- You don’t have a drug addiction
- You don’t have untreated depression
- You don’t have any medical conditions that prevent implantation
It’s also important for you to have a successful trial before moving forward with this therapy.
Back pain shouldn’t limit your life. If you’ve lived with back pain for too long or you want effective alternatives to medications, contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Carden.