Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant
A spinal cord stimulator—also referred to as SCS—is an implanted device that delivers low-level electrical impulses into the spinal cord to relieve chronic pain.
What You Need To Know About A Spinal Cord Stimulator
- What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
- When is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Necessary?
- How to Prepare for a Spinal Cord Stimulator Procedure
- What Happens During a Spinal Cord Stimulator Procedure?
- Spinal Cord Stimulator Risks
- Spinal Cord Stimulator Recovery
What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
Spinal cord stimulators include electrodes—thin wires—and a generator—a small, pacemaker-like battery pack. The electrodes are implanted between the spinal cord and the vertebrae so the electric current can stimulate specific nerves on the spinal cord. During spinal cord stimulator surgery, a surgeon places the generator under the skin near the abdomen or buttocks.
Patients use an external remote control for the spinal cord stimulator to:
- Turn the stimulator off and on.
- Change the stimulation level.
- Target particular pain areas.
- Manage customized settings or programs.
The electric stimulation masks the pain signals traveling up the spinal cord to the brain, helping patients reduce the amount of pain felt.
Resurgens Spine Center is one of the most highly-rated places to receive spinal cord stimulator surgery. Book an appointment now at one of our Metro Atlanta locations.
When is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Necessary?
Patients use a spinal cord stimulator to treat or manage various types of chronic, debilitating pain, including:
- Back pain (particularly pain that continues post-surgery)
- Sciatica pain
- Arachnoiditis (inflammation of the membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord)
- Angina (heart pain)
- Spinal cord injuries
- Nerve pain (related to cancer treatment or diabetes)
- Vascular disease
- Post-amputation pain
- Abdominal or perineal pain
Spinal stimulator candidates typically exhaust all conservative pain treatments and often have had at least one spinal surgery.
How to Prepare for a Spinal Cord Stimulator Procedure
The spinal cord stimulator is implanted during an outpatient procedure done under general anesthesia. To prepare for a spinal cord stimulator procedure, patients should consider the following:
Pre-operative consent and exam: Patients will sign a consent form and disclose their medical history—including allergies, prescriptions, previous surgeries, and anesthesia reactions. Physicians may also require a blood test, X-ray, and electrocardiogram to confirm the patient is fit for surgery.
One week before the spinal cord stimulator procedure: Patients may continue taking medications as recommended but should stop taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines and blood thinners —including ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, Plavix, etc.
Patients should also stop drinking alcohol and using nicotine during this time. These steps can prevent excessive bleeding during the operation and stop blood clots from forming around the spinal cord during recovery.
The night before the spinal cord stimulator procedure: Because the procedure uses general anesthesia, patients should avoid eating a heavy dinner and not eat or drink anything after midnight or on the day of the operation. Having an empty stomach can prevent complications from the anesthesia. Doctors will confirm which medications are acceptable to take with a sip of water.
Day of the spinal cord stimulator procedure: Patients are encouraged to remove make-up and piercings, leave all valuables at home, and wear clean, loose-fitting clothes and flat shoes.
What Happens During a Spinal Cord Stimulator Procedure?
Spinal cord stimulators require trial implantation to determine if SCS is effective for the patient, followed by a permanent spinal stimulator implant.
Trial implantation: The surgeon makes a small incision in the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord and inserts one or more insulated wire leads. Electrodes at the end of the leads deliver electrical stimulation to the nerves to block pain signals. Patients may be asked for feedback to help the surgeon determine the ideal placement for the electrodes. The leads connect to a temporary external generator worn on a belt. During the trial period, patients evaluate how well the device reduces pain. Reducing the pain by 50% or more is considered a success. If the treatment is not successful, the surgeon will remove the leads without any damage to the spine or nerves.
Permanent implantation: The surgeon will implant permanent leads in the predetermined epidural space. The surgeon makes an additional incision in which the implantable pulse generator (IPG) battery is positioned. Each incision is about the length of a driver's license. The leads connect to the IPG battery, and patients control the system with an external, wireless remote.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Risks
Spinal cord stimulator risks are rare, but all operations carry some risk. A small number of patients may experience:
- Blood clots
- Allergic reaction to the implants
- Battery failure
- Device migration
- Device damage
- Weakness or numbness
- Dural puncture
Spinal Cord Stimulator Recovery
Spinal cord stimulator surgery is an outpatient process, so patients can leave once the anesthesia dissipates. Physicians recommend patients move carefully for two to four weeks to prevent disturbing the incisions. Complete spinal cord stimulator recovery may take up to eight weeks.
Patients will schedule follow-up visits so the doctor can assess:
- The frequency of the pulses.
- The area the pulses stimulate.
- The effectiveness of the device.
Patients should call the doctor if pain around the implant lasts longer than two weeks or if the area around the incisions becomes swollen or red.
Resurgens Spine Center is the leading spinal cord stimulator surgery provider in Georgia. Get moving again by booking an appointment at one of our state-of-the-art facilities.