Why Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial Necessary and How Does It Work?

Why Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial Necessary and How Does It Work?

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) has revolutionized the pain management industry. 

These small implantable devices use low levels of electricity to interfere with the pain signals going to your brain. It’s so effective that Vladimir Fiks, MD, recommends spinal cord stimulation for several types of back pain, including:

However, just because it’s beneficial for some people doesn’t mean it works for everyone. That’s why it’s important to undergo a trial stimulation period in advance.

Here’s why a spinal cord stimulator trial is necessary before implantation and what you can expect at Advanced Pain Management Center in Portland, Oregon also serving the surrounding areas of Aloha, Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigart & Lake Oswego.

How spinal cord stimulation works

Unlike other pain management treatments, spinal cord stimulation involves strategically placing electrodes in the epidural space of your spine, near the nerves that are triggering your pain.

These thin wires carry mild electrical currents to the nerves, altering the messages they send to your brain and changing what you feel. For example, instead of pain, you may feel nothing or fluttering sensations.

There are different SCS devices on the market, but they each contain three primary components: electrodes, a small generator, and a remote control.

As mentioned, the electrodes are implanted in the epidural space of your spine. The generator is implanted near your buttocks. The remote control remains outside of your body, so you can control the electrical current going to the electrodes and be able to turn the device on and off.

When it comes to the trial, which we explain in the following section, Dr. Fiks places the electrodes in the epidural space, but the generator stays outside of your body.

What to expect during your spinal cord stimulation trial

Since results can vary from person to person, Dr. Fiks uses a trial period — which usually lasts 7-14 days — to gauge whether SCS can help you effectively manage your pain before undergoing full surgical implantation.

Dr. Fiks starts by administering a local anesthetic into the treatment area. Then, he uses X-ray guidance to insert a hollow needle containing thin, insulated wires into the epidural space near the nerves that are triggering your pain. Depending on your condition, Dr. Fiks might insert more than one wire.

After placing the wires, Dr. Fiks connects them to the generator to test the SCS device and make adjustments. Once optimal pain-relief coverage gets reached, he secures the temporary electrodes in place with a suture or surgical tape.

Regarding the generator, you can wear it on a belt or tape it to your back. And you can control the device with your remote control. The procedure usually takes 30-90 minutes.

Gauging the success of your spinal cord stimulation trial

Over the following 7-14 days, you track your symptoms and how well your SCS device works to reduce pain. Dr. Fiks provides specific guidelines on a case-by-case basis, but they often include documenting whether or not you:

Dr. Fiks normally considers the therapy a success if your pain gets cut by at least half.

If you choose to move forward with a permanent device, Dr. Fiks can surgically implant your permanent electrodes and generator. However, if you decide against SCS therapy, he can easily remove the temporary wires.

To learn more about spinal cord stimulation and to see if it may be able to help you, call 503-405-8718 or book an appointment online with Advanced Pain Management Center today.

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