Spinal Chord Stimulator (SCS)

We have conducted numerous spinal cord stimulator trials, enabling our patients to experience firsthand the potential benefits and determine whether this treatment aligns with their needs

What is a Spinal Chord Stimulator?

A Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) is a device designed to alleviate chronic pain by sending electrical impulses to the spinal cord, which interfere with the pain signals sent to the brain. The system includes a small pulse generator, implanted under the skin of the lower back or abdomen, and leads that deliver electrical pulses directly to the spinal area. SCS is often explored for patients who haven't achieved pain relief from traditional treatments, benefitting those with conditions such as chronic back pain, sciatica, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), neuropathic pain, and post-surgical pain.

The implantation of an SCS device typically occurs in two phases: an initial trial to assess effectiveness and, if successful, a subsequent permanent implantation. The trial phase involves temporarily placing the leads with an external pulse generator, allowing patients to evaluate the device's impact on their pain without committing to a permanent solution. If the trial indicates significant pain reduction, a permanent SCS system may be installed, offering a reversible and adjustable method for managing chronic pain and enhancing quality of life.

What is a Spinal Chord Stimulator Trial?

A Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) trial is a critical first step in determining whether spinal cord stimulation will effectively manage a patient's chronic pain. This trial phase allows both the patient and their healthcare provider to assess the effectiveness of the SCS system without committing to a permanent implant. During the trial, which typically lasts about a week, temporary leads are placed near the spinal cord through a minimally invasive procedure, and these leads are connected to an external pulse generator that the patient can control.

This trial period is essential for evaluating how well the SCS reduces the patient's pain and improves their ability to perform daily activities. Patients are encouraged to engage in their normal routines as much as possible to thoroughly test the system's efficacy in various scenarios. If the trial demonstrates significant pain relief and an improved quality of life, the patient may be considered for permanent implantation of the SCS device. The trial is a safe, reversible step that provides valuable insights into the potential benefits of spinal cord stimulation, ensuring that only those who experience meaningful pain reduction proceed to permanent implantation.

What are the benefits and risks of a Spinal Chord Stimulator?

Spinal Cord Stimulators (SCS) offer a promising option for managing chronic pain when other treatments have failed, but like any medical intervention, they come with both benefits and risks.

Benefits

  • Effective Pain Management: Many patients experience significant reductions in chronic pain, particularly in conditions like neuropathic pain, complex regional pain syndrome, and failed back surgery syndrome.
  • Reduced Dependence on Pain Medications: SCS can decrease the need for oral pain medications, reducing the side effects and risks associated with long-term use of these drugs.
  • Improved Quality of Life: With pain reduction, patients often report improvements in daily activities, mood, and overall quality of life.
  • Trial Period: The SCS trial allows patients to test the device before committing to permanent implantation, ensuring it effectively manages their pain.
  • Adjustable and Reversible: The stimulation settings can be adjusted to meet changing pain management needs, and the device can be turned off or removed if it becomes unnecessary or problematic.

Risks

  • Surgical Complications: As with any surgical procedure, there's a risk of infection, bleeding, or allergic reaction to the implanted materials. Although rare, there is also a risk of nerve damage.
  • Device-Related Issues: Problems can arise with the device itself, including lead migration (movement of the wires), equipment failure, or battery depletion requiring replacement surgery.
  • Varying Efficacy: Some patients may not experience significant pain relief from the SCS, or the effectiveness of the device may diminish over time.
  • Discomfort: Some individuals may find the sensation of the electrical impulses to be uncomfortable or unpleasant.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments: Patients with an SCS may need to avoid certain activities or medical procedures, such as MRI scans, that can interfere with or be affected by the device.

It's crucial for individuals considering an SCS to discuss these potential benefits and risks with a specialist. During your pain management consultation, we will discuss your specific condition, medical history, and lifestyle to determine whether an SCS is a suitable option for your pain management needs.

Who is a good candidate for a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) procedure?

Good candidates for a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) typically include individuals with chronic pain who have not found sufficient relief from other treatments. Here are some specific criteria that may make someone a suitable candidate:

  • Chronic Pain: Patients with chronic pain, especially in the back, neck, legs, or arms, that has persisted for more than three months and is not responsive to conservative treatments.
  • Failed Conservative Treatments: Individuals who have tried and not benefited from other pain management strategies, such as medications, physical therapy, or surgery.
  • Specific Pain Conditions: Conditions like failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), neuropathic pain, and arachnoiditis are often responsive to SCS.
  • Successful Pain Relief During Trial: A successful SCS trial, which involves temporary placement of the stimulator to assess its effectiveness in reducing pain, is a prerequisite for permanent implantation.
  • Absence of Untreated Drug Addiction: Patients should not have current drug addiction issues that are untreated, as this can affect the outcome and management of the device.
  • No Psychological Contraindications: Psychological conditions that could affect the perception of pain or the outcome of the SCS therapy should be addressed prior to implantation.
  • Realistic Expectations: It's important that candidates have a realistic understanding of what the SCS can and cannot do, including that the device is intended to reduce pain but might not eliminate it entirely.
  • Good Overall Health: Candidates should be in good enough health to undergo the procedure for implanting the stimulator.

Candidates for an SCS typically undergo a comprehensive evaluation, including physical exams, medical history review, and sometimes psychological assessments, to ensure that the benefits of the device will outweigh any potential risks or complications. This careful selection process helps identify those who are most likely to achieve significant pain relief from the device.

Candidates for an SCS typically undergo a comprehensive evaluation, including physical exams, medical history review, and sometimes psychological assessments, to ensure that the benefits of the device will outweigh any potential risks or complications. This careful selection process helps identify those who are most likely to achieve significant pain relief from the device.

How is a Spinal Chord Stimulator procedure performed?

The implantation of a Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) involves a surgical procedure carried out in two main stages: the trial period and, if successful, the permanent implantation. Here's a general overview of the process:

Trial Phase

  • Preparation: The patient undergoes a thorough evaluation to ensure they are a suitable candidate for SCS. This includes medical history, physical examination, and sometimes psychological testing.
  • Procedure: Under local anesthesia and possibly mild sedation, temporary electrode leads are inserted through a needle into the epidural space near the spinal cord. The placement is guided by fluoroscopy (live X-ray) to ensure accuracy.
  • Testing: The leads are connected to an external trial stimulator, which the patient can control. During the trial period, usually about a week, the patient assesses the effectiveness of the device in managing their pain.

Permanent Implantation

  • Evaluation: If the trial provides significant pain relief, the patient is considered for permanent implantation. The decision is based on the patient's feedback and pain relief levels during the trial.
  • Surgical Procedure: Performed under local anesthesia with or without sedation, the permanent procedure involves making a small incision to place the electrode leads into the epidural space, similar to the trial, but these leads are secured in place. Another incision is made to implant the pulse generator under the skin, usually in the buttock or abdomen.
  • Device Configuration: After implantation, the device settings are adjusted to optimize pain relief. This process is guided by patient feedback to ensure the most effective pain management.
  • Recovery: Post-surgery, patients typically return home the same day or after a short hospital stay. Recovery involves following specific instructions regarding activity levels, wound care, and follow-up appointments for device adjustment and monitoring.

The SCS procedure is minimally invasive and reversible, with the goal of significantly reducing chronic pain and improving the patient's quality of life. It's a collaborative process, requiring active patient participation in both the trial and adjustment phases to ensure the best outcomes.  We have performed many trials for our patients to help them determine if this is the best treatment option for them.  Contact us to so we can help you determine if this is the right procedure for you.

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