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Spinal Cord Stimulation

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS)?


spinal cord stimulatorSpinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an advanced therapy for certain types of chronic pain. A spinal stimulator device is only used for the treatment of spinal pain that has been unresponsive to surgical and/or non-surgical treatment.

This device stimulates nerves with tiny electrical impulses through small electrical leads (wires) placed against the spinal cord. This essentially blocks the sensation of pain being transferred from the spinal cord to the brain. Instead of pain, patients will feel a tingling sensation in the areas where their pain has recently been felt. Although it is not a cure, SCS can be successful in reducing your pain level on day-to-day bases.

There are several steps to be taken before the Spinal Cord Stimulator can be permanently implanted into your spine.

Step 1: The Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial

The SCS trial involves an outpatient procedure to temporarily place a stimulator wire in your back. This is done to determine if your pain will be decreased by the stimulation. The trial will last 5-7 days. During this time you will decide if the stimulation provides at least 50%-70% of relief .You must also be sure that you are comfortable with the sensations of stimulation.

Step 2: Reviewing permanent placement options with a Neurosurgeon

A) Once you and your physician have determined this is the correct treatment route, you will then meet with a Neurosurgeon to discuss permanent placement of the SCS. This will be the physician that will permanently implant your device. During this visit your physician will help to answer any questions you might have. (Our office will help you to make this appointment.)

B) You will also need to meet with a Neurophysiologist, to review permanent placement of the spinal cord stimulator. (Our office will also make this appointment.)

Step 3: Implantation of the Spinal Cord Stimulator

The procedure will take place in an operating room and use live x-ray guidance. It will be exactly like the SCS trial, but once the wire is placed in the correct area, you will be sedated. At this point the wire will be anchored and the battery will be implanted under your skin. When you awake from surgery the device will be completely contained below the skin. You will have discomfort and swelling at the site of the battery implant. You should avoid lifting, bending, stretching, and twisting. However, light exercise, such as walking, is important to build strength and to help relieve pain.

Long Term Care of the Spinal Cord Stimulator.

The life of the battery depends upon your stimulation usage. If you have a rechargeable battery (which you physician will explain to you) it will need periodic recharging, varying anywhere from 1-4 weeks.

You will not be able to have any MRI scans in the future once the permanent device is placed. CT scanning is okay, but the magnetic field from the MRI is dangerous as it can pull the leads out of place and cause severe and sometimes irreversible injury to the spinal cord.

Restrictions after surgery

  • During the first 6 to 8 weeks you will want to take to it easy so the new implanted leads do not move in the spine. Keep in mind to limit bending, twisting, stretching and lifting items over 5 pounds. Try your best not to sleep on your stomach
  • You can Gradually return to your normal activities. Walking is encouraged; start with a short distance during the first few weeks and then gradually increase to 1 to 2 miles daily
  • Do not drive for 2 to 4 weeks after surgery or until discussed with your surgeon
  • Postpone sexual activity until your follow-up appointment unless your surgeon specifies otherwise
  • A physical therapy program may be recommended