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Spinal Cord Stimulation - How It Can Help Manage Pain?

Written and reviewed by
Dr. K J Choudhury 90% (206 ratings)
MBBS, MD, M.N.A.M.S(Anaesthesiology), FWACS
Pain Management Specialist, Delhi  •  50 years experience
Spinal Cord Stimulation - How It Can Help Manage Pain?

Pain is a perception by the nervous system. When a painful stimulus is applied to a body part, the nerve endings of that part will send the sensation all the way to the brain where it is perceived as pain. If the pain is experienced by the legs or hands, then the sensation travels via the spinal cord to be perceived as pain. In case of people suffering from nerve problems, there could be cases of chronic pain, therefore conservative treatment measures may fail at times. In these people, though the pain source cannot be reduced, the perception can be reduced. This is exactly what a spinal cord stimulator does, it masks the signals that are reaching the brain, and thereby reduces the perception of pain. 

What is it and how does it work?

Spinal cord stimulator is implanted in patients with chronic intractable neuropathic pain when other conservative or surgical treatment has failed. Trial electrode/s are placed in the outer covering (epidural space) of the spinal cord, higher than the level of pain. Correct placement of electrode is confirmed by stimulating the electrodes through an external generator and different modes/intensity of current are tried to get best pain relief. Pain message is electrical in nature and reaches pain center in brain through multiple relays. Spinal cord stimulator converts electrical energy to a different feeling called neuromodulation and usually pleasant. Upon relief of atleast 60%, the device is implanted in the body like pacemaker for heart. An external remote device allows the device to be used when it is required. It is very safe and free from sideeffects of medications as no drug is used with this device.

Benefits of using stimulator 

  • Useful for people with prolonged case of sciatica and chronic regional pain syndrome
  • It reduces pain significantly
  • Improves a person’s quality of life by reducing pain (especially back and legs) which can be debilitating
  • Useful when other modalities of treatment have failed
  • Useful when surgery is not possible (either no response to prior surgeries or patient’s overall health does not allow for surgery)
  • Is a reversible option, the stimulator can be removed any time the patient feels it is not working
  • Requires minimal surgery and can be done as an outpatient procedure
  • Once trained, patients can manage the stimulator on their own
  • Is not affected by devices such as cell phone, microwaves and other electronic gadgets
  • Can be used on a trial basis before a patient opts for a permanent stimulator.

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