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Spinal cord stimulators, you might have heard your pain or spine doctor mention them, but what are they, and are they right for you? In this post, we’ll delve into them in a bit more detail.

In a nutshell, spinal cord stimulators (SCS) are modern devices that helps patients manage their chronic pain(s). We find it’s best to explain the therapy as analogous to modern day pacemakers. Pacemakers are battery devices, traditionally implanted underneath the skin just below the left collarbone. The pacemaker battery has wires, which send electrical impulses to the heart, telling the heart when to beat.

Similarly, with spinal cord stimulators, the battery is implanted by the buttock (where there’s some extra cushion) and has wires, which send electrical impulses to the spinal cord. These electrical impulses are purposed at diminishing or eliminating incoming pain signals.

One of the major advantages of spinal cord stimulation, is that you’re offered the opportunity to “try it before you buy it.” That is to say, that we do not just implant a spinal cord stimulator battery and hope for the best. Rather, we first trial the therapy for 1 week.

During the trial period, the spinal cord stimulator wires are placed, but instead of implanting a permanent battery underneath the buttock skin, the battery is merely sterilely taped to your back. After the 30-minute procedure, you’re clear to go home and about your usual day with the new spinal cord stimulator device “on.” We typically afford you 7-days to appreciate the pain-relieving therapy. At the end of the trial week, we’ll have you return to the office, where we remove the wires, and ask you about your experienced relief.

  • If you tell us that you did not experience any relief, or that the relief was mediocre, then spinal cord stimulation is not for you, and we’ll move on to considering alternative treatment options.
  • However, if you return after your 1-week trial, smiling ☺, telling us that it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that you’ve wished you’d tried this 20 years ago…then spinal cord stimulation is likely the right choice for you!

Accordingly, if you’ve had a successful trial period, we would then re-book the procedure in a surgery center or hospital setting, where we can safely place the wires again, and this time implant the permanent battery.

Lastly, akin to the history of pacemakers, spinal cord stimulators have significantly evolved over the last several decades. The once novel therapy continues to mature, as numerous competing biotechnology companies drive the innovation towards improvement. Accordingly, depending on the company, spinal cord stimulators come with varied specifications as they relate to battery duration, MRI compatibility, battery sizes and more. No two patients are the same, and each patient deserves their individualized considerations in selecting his or her optimal therapy.

Still have questions? Please reach out to us!

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