How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulator Work?

If you struggle with chronic back or nerve pain, you know it can impact every aspect of your life. Unfortunately, many causes of nerve pain can be difficult to treat.

As an experienced interventional pain management physician, Vladimir Fiks, MD, employs cutting edge technology at Advanced Pain Management Center in Portland, Oregon. In this blog, Dr. Fiks discusses what spinal cord stimulation is and how it offers significant pain relief.

Understanding chronic pain

When you experience pain, nerves in your body called nociceptors begin firing off messages to your spinal cord and brain, alerting them to tissue damage in your body. It only takes fractions of a second for these messages to reach your brain, and once received, your brain responds with how you should feel and react.

This complex process occurs almost instantaneously, but it also dictates how you feel pain. Traditional approaches to managing the discomfort involves masking this response. But, a spinal cord stimulator disrupts the communication cycle triggering your pain, so you can stop the pain signals.

How a spinal cord stimulator works

A spinal cord stimulator consists of a small pulse generator, thin electrodes that branch out from the generator, and a remote control. Dr. Fiks implants the pulse generator near your lower spine and places the electrodes in specific areas of your epidural space, which is the outermost part of your spinal canal.

When switched on, the spinal cord stimulator generates mild electrical pulses to disrupt the pain signals going from your nociceptors to your brain. The generator — unlike pills or therapeutic injections — can provide pain relief 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. 

It’s important to note that a spinal cord stimulator won’t heal the damage in your body causing your pain. Instead, the system changes how your brain processes what it feels. So, instead of having intense or debilitating pain, you may have more minor sensations — such as a mild tingling or fluttering — or no sensations at all.

The advantages of a spinal cord stimulator

A spinal cord stimulator can offer significant relief for chronic pain, especially in situations where other treatment options fail. 

Trial period

This pain management technique also comes with a trial period, so Dr. Fiks can determine if it’s a viable option for you before you undergo a permanent implantation.

During your trial period, Dr. Fiks inserts temporary electrodes into your epidural space, but you wear your generator outside of your body. Then, he monitors your pain for a week or so. If you notice at least 50% less pain during this time, Dr. Fiks usually considers your trial a success.

Permanent, but reversible

To permanently implant your spinal cord stimulator, Dr. Fiks makes a few small incisions to insert your generator and electrodes. Then, he tests your device to confirm it’s working and closes your incisions.

This procedure, which usually takes 1-2 hours, only requires local anesthesia, and you can go home the same day. You may have mild tenderness for a few days, but your incision sites should heal within 2-4 weeks.

In addition to providing proven results, spinal cord stimulators can also reduce your need for risky medications, such as opioids. Furthermore, with your remote control, you can adjust the intensity of the electrical pulses or turn them off entirely. And, you can have your spinal cord stimulator removed at any time.

To see if a spinal cord stimulator can relieve your chronic pain, book an appointment over the phone with Advanced Pain Management Center today.

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