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Spinal Cord Stimulation: What to Expect

You’ve been diligently following a treatment program to relieve your back pain and associated symptoms, but still aren’t getting relief. You may benefit from a spinal cord stimulator to improve your quality of life.

This small implant is worn just under your skin and sends electrical impulses to dull nerve pain that’s irritating your back. If interventional pain specialist Dr. Edward Carden has suggested a spinal cord stimulator for your spinal treatment, here’s what you can expect during the trial and implantation.

About the spinal cord stimulator

A spinal cord stimulator is made up of thin wires and a small generator. The wires are placed in the delicate space between the spinal cord and the vertebrae. Dr. Carden places the generator just under your skin in the abdominal or buttock area.

You control how your spinal stimulator works. Dr. Carden gives you an external remote control that activates the electrical stimulation when you feel pain.

How the stimulator works

The electrical pulses put out by the stimulator interfere with the pain signals that travel from the nerves around the spine to the brain. The disruption means you feel less pain.

Spinal cord stimulation may be used alone or included as part of a comprehensive treatment plan that includes medications, gentle exercise, and physical therapy. Although the stimulator is implanted under the skin, the process of getting the stimulator is not major surgery.

The trial implantation

Because a spinal cord stimulator doesn’t necessarily work for everyone’s needs, Dr. Carden recommends you go through a trial implantation. During this trial, he applies a local anesthetic to numb your back and then inserts the electrical wires through a small incision.

These leads are attached to an external stimulator, much like the one that would be implanted if the trial goes well.

During the trial session, Dr. Carden asks for your feedback. He may move the electrodes around to make sure they’re in the most beneficial place.

You’re sent home to experience the spinal cord stimulator for a week. If it effectively treats your pain and improves your function, you schedule permanent implantation. If the trial is unsuccessful, the wires can easily be removed without causing any damage to your spinal cord or the nerves.

Permanent implantation

The permanent implantation is more involved than the trial procedure, so you’re heavily sedated or placed under general anesthesia.

Dr. Carden replaces the trial electrodes with permanent leads and inserts the implantable generator in the predetermined space at your buttocks or abdomen. Side effects are minimal following surgery. You may have slight swelling and discomfort at the site of the incisions, but this should subside in a few days.

Why consider a spinal cord stimulator

If you want to avoid surgery, or had a failed surgery, a spinal cord stimulator can offer you relief. The device can effectively reduce pain to improve sleep and your overall quality of life.

People who have spinal cord stimulators are often able to reduce their medication intake or eliminate medication altogether. 

To learn more about how a spinal cord stimulator can help you ease back pain and improve your quality of life, call the office of Edward Carden, MD, in Sherman Oaks, California, or use the online tool to make an appointment. 

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