What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is a device that sends electrical impulses to the areas of the spinal cord causing pain and interferes with the transmission of pain signals to the brain. It blocks the brain's ability to sense pain in the stimulated areas, thus relieving pain without the side effects that medications can cause. The electrical impulses can be targeted to specific locations and, as pain changes or improve, stimulation can be adjusted as necessary.
Indications for a Spinal Cord Stimulator
Nerve compression can cause back and leg pain. Among other causes, scar tissue around the nerves or chronic inflammation of the nerves such as arachnoiditis may cause leg and back pain.
When your neurosurgeon feels that open surgery to decompress the nerves is unlikely to help the pain, an operation to implant a spinal cord stimulator may be suggested.
Preparing for a Spinal Cord Stimulator
Before implanting a permanent stimulator, you will undergo a trial stimulation period to see if the stimulation helps relieve the pain. If it does, a permanent stimulator may be implanted.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Procedure
There are several ways of implanting the stimulator. The initial implantation of the trial is generally done when you are awake so that you can determine if the stimulator is covering the appropriate spot of the spinal cord and is giving you pain relief.
Either a paddle lead is placed over the spinal cord through a small open incision and removal of the lamina, or a lead is placed through the skin. The permanent implant will be fixed several days later if you achieve good pain relief with the trial stimulator.
Postoperative Care following the Insertion of a Spinal Cord Stimulator
You are generally discharged on the same day or the following day of the procedure. You should keep the wounds very clean and dry.
Risks and Complications of a Spinal Cord Stimulator
The risks of inserting a spinal cord stimulator are low. The potential risks may include bleeding, infection, injury to nerves, injured the spinal cord, paralysis, and death