What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator is a thin wire placed near the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. A small generator, roughly the size of a pacemaker, sends a pulsed electrical current through this wire, preventing pain signals from being transmitted to the brain. This method does not address the pain at its source, but rather interferes with its transmission. For example, in patients with sciatic pain, pain is experienced by the brain when it receives electrical impulses from the affected area of the body. We can reduce the perception of pain by interrupting these electrical signals, using tried and tested methods. While this doesn’t address the cause of the pain, it does provide relief for the patient.
The Spinal Cord Stimulator is a medical device designed to interrupt these pain signals. The device is implanted into the patient’s body, and it uses thin wires with electrodes to conduct electrical signals directly to specific parts of the spinal cord. These interfering signals significantly reduce the intensity of perceived pain; most often, it is replaced with a slight tingling sensation.
The patient is able to adjust the Spinal Cord Stimulator with a remote control which offers several preset programs. By varying the frequency and intensity of the signals, the patient can adapt to the pain s/he is feeling and maximize the relief.
What kind of pain can be treated with spinal cord stimulation?
Spinal Cord Stimulation can be an effective means of bringing severe pain to a manageable level. Some patients suffering from chronic pain may not obtain relief from common therapies such as physical therapy, medication management, steroid injections or spinal surgery. In these cases, spinal stimulation can significantly improve their ability to perform daily activities, reduce or eliminate their need for pain medication, and raise their overall quality of living.
Is Spinal Cord Stimulation for everyone?
No: not every patient meets the criteria listed above, and the results of this therapy can be variable. This is why Dr. Lefkowitz is committed to developing a strong relationship with his patients, and gaining a comprehensive understanding of their condition, before making an informed and responsible decision regarding this type of procedure. Drawing from his many years of experience and extensive expertise, Dr. Lefkowitz considers every aspect of your medical history before coming to a decision, and makes sure that a Spinal Cord Stimulation is the right treatment for you.
How is the procedure performed?
Implanting a Spinal Cord Stimulator occurs in two steps. First, it must be determined whether you are a good candidate for this treatment: Dr. Lefkowitz begins by reviewing your past medical history, with a special focus on the previous therapies you may have attempted. If he decides that a spinal cord stimulator is a good option for you he will schedule the procedure. Setting up the stimulator is extremely non-invasive: first, Dr. Lefkowitz creates a small opening in the skin near the site, through which the stimulator wire is directed to the desired area of the spinal cord. Then, an external generator is attached to the wire, and various pulsed current settings are tested. Over the following week, you will be asked to keep a pain diary, and will be monitored on a daily basis.
After this first step has been completed, Dr. Lefkowitz will consult with you again: if the trial stimulator has helped alleviate your chronic pain, we will arrange for the more permanent stimulator to be implanted into the abdomen.
Does It Work?
The Spinal Cord Stimulator doesn’t address the underlying cause of sciatica pain. That’s why it is recommended as a therapy only after other options like exercise medications, injections and even surgery have been attempted.
However, it has been proven to be very effective in blocking pain that can’t be stopped in other ways, which can allow the patient to reduce or even stop the use of pain medications (which often have undesirable side effects) and to participate in normal family or work activities. Most patients say their pain is reduced by 50% to 70% when using a spinal cord stimulator.