FAQ’s on Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant?

A spinal cord stimulator implant is a device implanted along the spinal cord to control chronic pain symptoms related to untreatable or an unsuccessfully treated condition that involves the neck, legs, arms, or spine.

This may include:

  • Failed back surgery syndrome
  • Post laminectomy syndrome
  • Diabetic or Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Postherpetic neuralgia
  • New indications for pelvic and abdominal pain.

The device works by exerting pulsed electrical signals to the spinal cord that can reinterpret the way the brain reads the nerve signals coming from the spine. Providing relief by rerouting, or altering, the pain signals with the goal of preventing the brain from responding to them, in an effort to manage and maintain symptomatic relief.

What are the Advantages of using Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants?

Using spinal cord implants has some distinct advantages over severalother alternative chronic back pain treatments.

The most persuasive advantage overall, is that spinal cord implants have a very high success rate. The benefits of using spinal cord stimulator implant are:

  • Spinal cord stimulator implants have been found to have few side effects, and they are easily reversible. If the patient no longer needs it, or the implant is not working, the implant can be removed.
  • Implantation of a spinal cord stimulator is a minimally invasive procedure. The surgery involved is performed on an outpatient basis, and the downtime is short compared to traditionally fully invasive procedure.

A trial test is done first to test the patient’s response to treatment before committing to a permanent implant. This also tests the patient’s response to the electric stimulation and effectiveness on the Pain Relief symptoms over a week trial.

If the trial stimulator test alleviates pain symptoms, a full implant procedure may be undergone after a successful psychologic evaluation (required by insurance companies).

What are the risks with Spinal Cord Stimulator Implants?

Possible risks associated with spinal cord stimulator implants are quite low, but as with any surgery there can be risks.

Those related directly to the operative site can be:

Surgical exposure: Though the procedure is quite minor, there could be injuries or complications that come with it. There is also risk of infections from the surgery.

Spinal cord/nerve root injuries: The implantation can result in spinal cord or nerve root injury which can result in a number of consequences. These are such as loss of sensation, paralysis, coma or death, bleeding, general weakness, loss of bladder, bowel and sexual function among others.

Use of anesthesia during surgery can result to a number of problems as people react differently to it. There is a possibility of wound drainage or infection.

The stimulator leads may break or migrate, which may necessitate a revision procedure. The implant may stop working after a while, in which case it is possible that re-programming may increase effectiveness again.

What are the Outcomes of the Implants?

Spinal cord stimulators have been a revolutionary procedure in pain management. The effectiveness for all types of conditions is approximately 75%. This includes failed back surgery, RSD, diabetic neuropathy, peripheral neuropathy, postlaminectomy syndrome, postherpetic neuralgia and new indications for pelvic/abdominal pain.

It is important to keep in mind that the implants do not fix the problem, so they are a last resort. They change the way the brain perceives pain signals due to the electrical stimulation, changing the pain in the area to a tingling sensation.