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Spinal Cord Stimulator

What Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

A spinal cord stimulator (also called SCS) is a device that’s implanted near your spine. It generates mild electrical impulses that interfere with the transmission of pain signals traveling along the spinal cord to your brain. Traditional spinal cord stimulators produce a gentle tingling sensation that masks the feeling of pain, while high-frequency stimulators reduce pain without this sensation. A spinal cord stimulation system (SCS) is made up of components that include:

  • Neurostimulator, which is a small device that sends the electrical signals
  • Lead wire, a thin wire that delivers the electrical impulses sent by the neurostimulator
  • Remote control, the device that allows you to adjust levels of stimulation or turn the neurostimulator on or off

Some spinal cord stimulators include a rechargeable battery, but others don’t require charging at all. When other forms of back pain or neck pain treatment haven’t worked for you, spinal cord stimulation surgery may be able to help reduce or eliminate the need for prescription pain medication so that you can return to a more active lifestyle without the threat of addiction.

Who Benefits from Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery?

SCS surgery may be the ideal solution if you haven’t found pain relief in prior surgeries, medications, or other conservative forms of treatment, such as physical therapy. After a thorough assessment and medical history, your top-rated spine doctor at NU-Spine in Edison, NJ can tell you if you’re a good candidate for the treatment.

Dr. Branko Skovrlj is a leading neurosurgeon and a champion of minimally invasive spine disorder treatment. With extensive experience treating complex spine conditions, he knows when the stimulator is the best fit for your unique situation. Some conditions that benefit from this type of surgery include:

  • Failed back surgery syndrome
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Peripheral neuropathic pain
  • Chronic back, leg or neck pain
  • A pinched or compressed nerve in your mid-back
  • Degenerative disc disease in your neck
  • Stenosis in your lower back
  • Post-laminectomy syndrome

A spinal cord stimulator overrides other chronic pain causes too, such as the trauma from a spinal cord injury or a neck injury. This treatment does not resolve the pain; it simply stops you from feeling it. The primary requirements for being a candidate include:

  • Your pain has not responded to any other treatment.
  • You’re not a candidate for further surgical procedures.
  • Your chronic pain won’t cause other physical degradation.

What Happens During Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery?

Once you’ve been identified as a candidate for spinal cord stimulation, your spine specialist still must test to ensure the treatment works in your case. Two procedures are required to implant a spinal cord stimulator:

  • Temporary spinal cord stimulator surgery. This procedure is done with one small incision in your back to place the electrodes, guided by a live CT scan. If this temporary test proves unsuccessful, these electrodes can be easily removed. You wear the stimulator itself, which stays outside your body, for about a week. If it relieves at least 50 percent of your pain, surgery can be scheduled to implant a permanent stimulator.
  • Permanent spinal cord stimulator surgery. During this procedure, the lead is surgically implanted in the epidural space near your spine, and the neurotransmitter is implanted under your skin. Once the device is connected and running, the incision is closed.

Both procedures are usually done on an outpatient basis. A local anesthesia may be used to numb the location of the incision or you may go under general anesthesia. You’re normally allowed to go home the same day, once the anesthesia wears off.

What Can I Expect During My Recovery?

Immediately after your spinal cord stimulator surgery, you likely some temporary pain and swelling at the incision site. Your spine experience surgeon gives you clear instructions for your recovery, such as removing the dressing over the incision after a few days. For several weeks after the procedure, you must limit some activities, such as:

  • Twisting
  • Bending
  • Lifting
  • Stretching
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