Physical Therapist

What Is Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Physical Therapist

Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain. It has many different causes but one of the most common is damage to the nerves. The damaged nerve may send signals to the brain that it then interprets as pain.

Spinal cord stimulation is a surgical treatment for chronic pain. It involves an implantable device that intercepts signals from the damaged nerve before they can reach the brain.

How Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?

Spinal cord stimulation involves the surgical implantation of a device similar to a pacemaker. This device has an electrode that comes in contact with the spinal cord. It works by sending an electrical impulse to the spinal cord that disrupts the pain signal. It replaces the pain signal with paresthesia, or light tingling sensation.

What Kind of Doctor Performs Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Because the surgery involves the central nervous system, only a surgeon with specialist knowledge should perform spinal cord stimulation. Orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgeons perform many of the procedures. Additional practitioners with the necessary education and experience include physiatrists, anesthesiologists, and pain specialists.

Who Is a Candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Spinal cord stimulation is often used to treat back pain and pain resulting from cord injuries. However, the device can block pain coming from any area of the body, so it can also be used to treat the following:

  • Perineal and abdominal pain
  • Post-amputation pain
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Postsurgical pain
  • Angina (i.e., heart pain)
  • Complex regional pain syndrome

However, spinal cord stimulation is usually not the first treatment for chronic pain. Doctors usually only recommend it when other options, especially nonsurgical ones, have proven ineffective.

What Are the Surgical Requirements?

Spinal cord stimulation actually involves multiple steps. The first is a trial period requiring a surgical procedure to place a temporary device. This is performed under fluoroscopy, which is a special kind of X-ray, for guidance. The temporary device will remain in place for about a week, during which time you will evaluate whether you experience any reduction in your pain, and if so, how much. If unsuccessful, the trial comes to an end with the removal of the wires. A successful trial involves a pain reduction of at least 50%. If the trial is successful, you can schedule the surgery for the permanent implantation with a physical therapist such as LeMoine Physical Therapy.

Spinal cord stimulation has a good effectiveness rate, with 80% of patients undergoing successful trials. Contact a physical therapist for more information about whether SCS is an option for you.