Living with chronic pain can derail your entire life. But it doesn’t have to, even if you have pain that hasn’t responded to treatment in the past.
At American Neurospine Institute, Dr. Ripul Panchal specializes in spine disorders, including difficult-to-treat conditions and debilitating nerve pain. And, no, you don’t need risky drugs or surgery to find relief.
If you have chronic back pain, here’s what you need to know about spinal cord stimulators and whether getting one may be right for you.
Why you feel pain
When you feel pain, nerves known as nociceptors detect tissue damage in your body and fire off a message to your spinal cord and brain. After receiving these messages, your brain decides what to do with the information. This complex process takes fractions of a second and determines how you feel all forms of pain.
Unlike traditional pain medications that only mask your symptoms, a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) uses neuromodulation to disrupt the communication cycle between these nerves and your brain. By using this approach, you can change how your brain processes the pain signals it receives.
How spinal cord stimulators work
A spinal cord stimulator uses wires placed in precise locations near your spinal cord or specific nerves. The wires are powered by a battery, and when switched on, they generate low levels of electricity. If nociceptors in the area try to send pain signals to your spine, these electrical currents interfere with the messages to your brain.
There are different kinds of spinal cord stimulation systems, but they all have a pulse generator (battery), implantable electrodes, and a remote control. You can turn them on yourself when your pain starts and control the level of electrical output they deliver.
Spinal cord stimulators don’t heal the cause of your pain. Instead, they change the way your brain processes signals from the area. So instead of feeling severe or intense pain, you may have a fluttering sensation, tingling, or no sensation at all.
Who is a good candidate for SCS
Dr. Panchal often recommends a trial period to determine if a spinal cord stimulator is right for you. This step involves implanting a temporary device with the guidance of a special X-ray known as fluoroscopy.
During this procedure, Dr. Panchel inserts thin, temporary electrodes into the specific location along your spine associated with your pain. Over the next week or so, you wear the SCS battery on the outside of your body. This trial period enables Dr. Panchal to determine if a spinal cord stimulator is right for you.
If your pain decreases by at least 50%, Dr. Panchal usually considers your trial period a success.
What to expect during SCS implantation
If your SCS trial period was a success, Dr. Panchal moves forward with permanent implantation. This outpatient procedure typically takes between 1-2 hours and requires local anesthesia.
During your procedure, Dr. Panchal makes a small incision along your spine and replaces your trial electrodes with permanent, sterile electrodes. Then he anchors them in place to reduce movement. Dr. Panchal also makes a small incision, often near your upper buttocks, to place the generator underneath your skin. After confirming that your electrodes and generator work properly, Dr. Panchal closes your incisions.
You can usually go home after your anesthesia wears off. For the first couple of days, you may have tenderness in the area and should avoid movements that can pull on your incisions, like stretching or twisting. These sites usually heal within 2-4 weeks.
After having your spinal cord stimulator permanently implanted, Dr. Panchal provides detailed instructions on caring for your incision sites, resuming regular activity, and living with an SCS device.
To see if a spinal cord stimulator is the right solution for your back pain, schedule an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Plano and Frisco, Texas, by calling or booking online today.