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Spinal Cord Stimulator

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

The spinal cord stimulator is a device that’s implanted into your body via a spinal surgery. It offers chronic back pain sufferers a chance to live without pain. The spinal cord stimulator doesn’t remove the problem causing the pain, but rather uses low levels of electricity to stimulate the pain receptors in the nerves to block the pain.

Back pain affects about 80 percent of Americans, and nearly 16 million people suffer from chronic back pain due to various spinal conditions. The top spine specialists at Premier Brain & Spine have the tools and expertise to successfully diagnose the cause of your back pain and provide you with the most effective treatment, which may include use of a spinal cord stimulator through permanent spinal cord stimulator surgery.

Am I Eligible for the Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery?

Relief from persistent, unresolved back pain is the main reason your New Jersey orthopedics doctor may recommend a spinal cord stimulator. Regardless where your crippling pain originates, it may cause your back to stiffen up and limit your ability to move without pain. You may not qualify for the device if you have a pacemaker or are pregnant.

If your condition hasn’t responded to conservative treatments, like medication and physical therapy, you may be a candidate for spinal cord stimulation. Conditions it treats include:

You may also be a good candidate if you have failed back syndrome after undergoing multiple low back surgeries. A stimulator can help if you had revision surgery that didn’t completely eliminate your back pain from procedures such as:

Are There Different Kinds of Spinal Cord Simulators?

The type of spinal cord simulator you need depends on where the simulator is going to be positioned near your spine. Another factor is whether the pain is located in one area or multiple areas. When pain persistently affects your legs, your spine pain center physician may suggest a stronger electrical stimulation device. Your NJ spine center specialist has a number of options available, such as:

  • A conventional implantable pulse generator. This is a battery-operated stimulator device. The battery is attached to your spine at the time of the surgery. It delivers a low electrical impulse. If your battery runs out of juice, you need surgery to replace the battery.
  • The rechargeable implantable pulse generator. This is also battery-operated, except the battery is rechargeable from outside your body. Delivery from such a device is at a higher electrical impulse that’s effective for severe lower back and leg pain.
  • The radiofrequency stimulator. This is a defunct model that had a battery pack outside the body.

You’re in charge of the stimulator, changing the intensity of the electrical signals as and when you need some pain relief. You may need different stimulator settings for different body positions like walking versus sitting. Your New Jersey orthopedics team presets certain programs for you to use immediately. Newer models even have settings for burst or high-density stimulation.

What Is Permanent Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery Involve?

The spinal cord stimulator consists of the electrodes, which are thin wires, and a generator that holds the battery. The electrodes are placed between your spinal cord and the vertebrae. The generator is placed underneath the skin near your buttocks or abdomen. You receive a wireless remote.

The battery life for a conventional stimulator lasts about three to five years before it needs to be replaced. The rechargeable spinal cord stimulator device lasts for an average of 10 to 15 years. Expect to get a local anesthesia for these surgical procedures. The surgery for a spinal cord stimulator takes place in phases that include:

  1. The first stage is a trial phase. You get a temporary device to test. The electrodes are placed inside your spine, while the generator is outside, hooked on a belt. You may also be required to provide feedback on where the exact pain point is during the placement operation.
  2. After the insertion surgery, your spine center doctor monitors your progress for a week. If you have experienced a no less than 50 percent pain reduction, you then move to the next phase.
  3. For the permanent spinal cord stimulator surgery, the trial electrodes are replaced with sterile electrodes and the generator is placed underneath your skin. This time around, you get sutures to anchor the devices to your spine.

What Happens After Surgery?

Your surgery lasts anywhere from one to two hours. Once your anesthesia wears off, you’re allowed to go home the same day. Healing takes about two to four weeks after the surgery. Your neurosurgery and spine specialist provide you with a list of warnings while you’re recovering that include:

  • Don’t do strenuous work for at least four to six weeks
  • Don’t lift objects that are heavier that about 20 pounds
  • Don’t bend, twist or stretch your spine
  • Don’t pull heavy objects towards you
  • Don’t lift your elbows above your head
  • Don’t sleep on your stomach
  • Don’t settle into one position for an extended length of time

Keep moving your body for faster recovery. Frequently change your position from sitting to standing to walking throughout the day. Walking is the best exercise as it puts little strain on the spine. You may be referred to a physical therapist. Take it slow initially, but do increase the time to a minimum of one hour a day as this helps strengthen the back and leg muscles, while preventing blood clots.

How Do I Live with the Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Life after getting a spinal cord stimulator surgery does change. You can’t swim or even take a bath or shower while wearing the temporary stimulator. Only after you get the permanent spinal cord stimulator surgery can you soak in water without worry. Driving or using heavy machinery requires you to turn off the stimulator as any sudden changes in stimulation levels can distract you.

If you’re traveling, the spinal cord stimulator may set off alarms at the airport. You also can’t get MRIs with the stimulator powered on. Your doctor explains the full range of precautionary measures attached to your spinal cord stimulator.

A top spine specialist at Premier Brain & Spine resorts to spinal cord stimulator surgery only after all other avenues of pain relief have been exhausted. Don’t continue to live with chronic pain when relief is so close. Contact your nearest spine surgery center today for an evaluation to determine if you’re a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator.

Updated on Jul 27, 2022 by Dr. David Wells-Roth (Neurosurgeon) of Premier Brain & Spine

Premier Brain & Spine
10 Parsonage Rd, Suite 208A
Edison, NJ 08837
(732) 258-0190