A Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) is an implantable neurostimulator device that consists of a tiny insulated wire called a lead, placed in the epidural space between the vertebrae and spinal cord, and a power source called a battery or receiver, placed under the skin near the buttocks or abdomen. When activated using an external remote, the device sends mild electric currents that block pain messages to the brain.
In situations where severe pain has become chronic and cannot be treated at the root through minimally invasive spine surgery, a pain specialist may recommend SCS. Neurostimulation is based on a theory published in 1965 that nerves can transmit one of two sensations at a time: pain, or a sensation related to touch. For more than 40 years, neurostimulation has been used to prevent pain signals from reaching the brain – helping people who cannot otherwise get the pain relief they need.
An ideal candidate for SCS implant might be someone whose pain is marked by numbness, burning or tingling. This indicates that their pain is neuropathic. The patient should have tried conservative treatments such as rest, proper exercise and diet, physical therapy, pain medication, nerve blocks, minimally invasive surgery and/or TENS. Candidates for SCS often have been diagnosed with Failed Back Surgery Syndrome.
How is the SCS implant performed?
To ensure the SCS will work for the patient, a trial must be performed before the permanent device is implanted. A hollow needle is inserted through the skin into the epidural space between the bony vertebra and the spinal cord using fluoroscopy (a type of X-ray). The lead is properly positioned and then attached to an external generator and power supply (worn on a belt). You will keep a written log of the stimulation settings during different activities and the level of pain relief. After 1 week, you will return to the doctor’s office to discuss permanently implanting the stimulator.
The trial is considered successful if you experienced greater than 50% improvement in pain. The permanent leads are inserted through an epidural needle or a small incision into the locations determined during the trial procedure. A small incision is created near the buttocks or abdomen for the implantable pulse generator (IPG) battery to be implanted. The leads are then connected to the IPG battery. The implant’s electrical pulses are programmed with an external remote, which allows you to turn the system on or off, and adjust the stimulation power level and select different programs.
How long is recovery?
The procedure is typically done on an outpatient basis, and many patients will experience nearly immediate relief and be able to go home the same day. To give the body proper time to heal, some activities will be limited for a period of time following the procedure.
Why North American Spine?
Our partnered physicians are specialized and highly experienced in minimally invasive techniques, so patients experience a quicker recovery time, better surgical outcome, and reduced post-operative risks in comparison to open spine surgeries. Also, remember that your Patient Care Manager is here to guide you the whole way—our goal is to make sure you feel informed, cared for, and comfortable throughout every step of your care.