How Spinal Cord Stimulation Works to Manage Pain

Chronic pain is one of the most debilitating issues a person can experience. It can affect your mental and physical health, and cause problems in nearly every aspect of your life. When chronic pain is the result of a spinal cord injury, a solution that has proven beneficial to many (though not everyone) is spinal cord stimulation. Let’s discuss how this therapy works, and how it may help you.

What is spinal pain?
Spinal cord injuries can occur through car accidents, personal injuries, or other accidents and can result in serious pain. Because the spine houses the nerves that reach all parts of our body, the pain can occur in areas where there is normal sensation as well as no feeling. The majority of individuals with spinal cord injuries report chronic pain, most often due to nerve damage from the SCI or musculoskeletal problems that arrive after the injury. 

There are several specific types of pain that can result from spinal cord injuries/degradation. Understanding the type of pain you are experiencing is key to deciding if spinal cord stimulation will work for you. The types of pain that result from spinal cord injuries are: neuropathic, musculoskeletal, and visceral. When you talk to your doctor, you will be asked to describe your pain in a variety of ways, including how it started, whether it is a result of personal injury,  its location, severity, how long it has existed, and if anything helps alleviate it. 

What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal cord stimulation is a therapy for severe to extreme cases of spinal cord pain. The therapy involves implanting a small pulse generator, called a stimulator, and thin transmitter wires called leads into your body at the base of your spinal cord. The stimulator delivers tiny pulses of mild electric current through the leads to specific nerves on the spinal cord that correlate to your areas of pain. When activated, the impulses mask pain signals traveling to the brain.

The device uses a remote control to turn stimulation on and off, regulate the level of stimulation, and target different pain areas. While the therapy does not get rid of the root cause of the pain, it changes the way the brain perceives the pain – and is considered successful if it reduces your pain by at least 50%.

How do I get a spinal cord stimulator?
Spinal cord stimulation is considered after a patient has tried other methods of pain mitigation. If you have tried other methods to satiate your pain, sometimes including surgery, you may be a candidate for the therapy. The first thing to do would be to talk to your doctor at American Interventional Pain Institute. From there, we will evaluate your pain, your history, and whether a spinal cord stimulator is the best way to help you find relief.

If you decide to move forward with a spinal cord stimulator, you will go through a spinal cord simulator trial period first to ensure the treatment will be effective for you. During this trial, a stimulator device will be implanted near the spinal canal and an external transmitter will send electrical pulses to contacts surrounding the spinal cord. This trial, which will last 5-7 days, will determine if you felt an appropriate amount of relief to warrant a permanent implant. 

It is important you choose a doctor and team that you trust when considering spinal cord stimulation therapy. While the procedure has been proven safe and effective, with hundreds and thousands of people treated, it is not without risks. The experienced medical team at Amerian Interventional Pain Institute provides comprehensive care for chronic pain that is not treatable with other methods – and can help you take control of the pain caused by your personal injury. With care, compassion, and innovative technology, we look forward to helping you alleviate your pain and resume your life.