Life with a Spinal Cord Stimulator

By The Spine Center

Chronic pain — pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer — affects about 20% of the United States population. Chronic pain may make it impossible to carry out your daily activities and puts you at risk for opioid dependence or addiction.

spinal cord stimulator interferes with pain signals so you feel relief without drugs, or with fewer drugs. At The Spine Center at the Bone and Joint Clinic of Baton Rouge, our expert doctors may recommend spinal cord stimulation to reduce your chronic pain.

What is a spinal cord stimulator?

A spinal cord stimulator (SCS)  is an electronic device that masks the pain signals that travel to your brain. An SCS comprises three parts:

  • Battery-powered pulse generator
  • Lead wire with electrodes that run from generator to your spinal cord
  • Hand-held remote control

The SCS creates electrical pulses that interfere with your nerve’s pain signals, in essence scrambling the signal so your brain doesn’t interpret it as pain. Instead, you may feel a slight tingling sensation. Or reduced pain. Or nothing at all.

You give it a trial run

You don’t have to commit to surgical implantation before getting an SCS. In fact, you must first undergo a trial run to be sure the SCS reduces your pain. So, if you want to know what life with an SCS is like, you actually get to experience it all before your surgery. A successful trial run should reduce your pain between 50-70%.

During this first part of SCS, we make small incisions near the nerves on your spinal cord that are transmitting your pain. You stay awake, but locally numb, while we ensure we’ve targeted the correct nerves in our X-ray-guided insertion. When your pain signal diminishes or ends, we know we’ve got the right nerves.

We then attach the pulse generator to a belt you wear around your waist. We adjust the signal while you’re in the office. However, we also give you a hand-held remote, so you can turn the stimulation up or down, depending on your needs.

During the next 4-7 days, you wear the belt and adjust the stimulation as needed. We also tell you how to take care of your incision sites. After the trial period, you return to the office for evaluation.

Your pain is less. And different.

An SCS doesn’t heal the original source of your pain. It simply changes the way your brain interprets the pain signal. If you experienced relief during your trial phase, we then recommend permanent surgical implantation of the pulse generator.

We perform the SCS implantation in the hospital, under general anesthesia. The implantation takes about 1-2 hours.

Life after SCS surgery

The pain relief you feel after your SCS implantation surgery should be about the same as what you experienced during your trial run. You still have control over the strength of the signal, which you adjust with your remote control.

For about the next six weeks, you must take it easy while your body heals. Abstain from lifting, sex, manual labor, and exercise. We give you a full list of restrictions before your surgery.

During the healing period, you must take care of your incisions and come back for follow-up appointments. We also give you pain medication and instructions.

After your surgery, you can expect long-term relief of your pain. You may be able to reduce or even completely eliminate pain medications. 

If you choose a rechargeable battery for your pulse generator, you need to recharge it every several days. If you choose a non-rechargeable battery, it needs to be replaced every 3-5 years. Rechargeable batteries last for about 10 years. 

Get relief from chronic pain by calling us today at 833-774-6327 for a spinal cord stimulator consultation. You can also book your appointment online at our Baton Rouge, Walker, or Prairieville, Louisiana offices.

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