A spinal cord stimulator is a small device implanted near the spine to generate electrical pulses that prevent pain messages from reaching the brain. Your doctor can recommend a spinal cord stimulator when other treatment options have proven ineffective for conditions like severe back pain, post-surgical pains, diabetic neuropathy, and peripheral vascular disease, among others.

Spinal cord stimulation helps treat all levels of pain while eliminating your dependence on strong pain medications. When you undergo surgical placement of a spinal cord stimulator, you expect your body to heal from the surgery and not from complications of poor services. Therefore, you must consult a skilled surgeon.

If you experience serious pain and all other failed treatments, you will receive a proper diagnosis and fitting with a spinal cord stimulator at Dr. Rappard’s practice. We serve clients seeking expert treatment for stubborn pain in Los Angeles, CA.

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

A spinal cord stimulator is a device implanted into your spinal cord to produce electric waves and relieve stubborn pain. The device consists of wires and a small battery resembling a pacemaker. The doctor places the electrodes between your vertebrae and the spinal cord while the generator lies under your skin.

With a spinal cord stimulator, you can send electric pulses using a remote control whenever you feel pain. While the mechanism of spinal cord stimulation is not completely clear, the treatment targets different groups of muscles to alter the brain senses.

Under normal circumstances, pain is a protective mechanism. Experiencing different types of pain lets you know what’s happening to your body and where you may have an injury. However, pain is not always protective. Many health conditions cause severe pain that affects your life and does not go away with common treatments like medication. Chronic pain affects your body function and causes significant changes in your nervous system and brain.

When your nervous system is not functioning properly, it can send pain signals randomly and for things that are not expected to be painful. Spinal cord stimulation will use a mild electric current to stimulate spine fibers and prevent the pain signals from reaching the brain.

While each person is different, a doctor can recommend a spine stimulator for individuals who:

  • Have not responded to pain-relieving medications, surgeries for their condition, or less invasive therapies.
  • Do not suffer from psychiatric conditions which could interfere with the treatment.

Conditions that Spinal Cord Stimulation Manage

When non-surgical pain relief options have proven ineffective in your condition, spinal cord stimulation is the best option for you. The procedure is used to manage the following types of pain:

  • Back Pain. Neck and back pain can range from dull to severe or disabling pain. Back pain could restrict the movement of your body and the quality of your life. Severe neck or back pain may result from trauma, infection, vertebrae degeneration, or overuse. When medication rest does not relieve this pain, a spine stimulator may be your only way out.
  • Angina Pectoris. Angina is chest pain that is persistent and does not go away. Pain in your chest could indicate poor blood flow or other heart complications.
  • Spinal cord injuries. The spine is surrounded by vertebrae and bundles of muscles that are prone to injuries. Sports injuries, auto accidents, falls, or infections can cause damage to your spinal cord and recurring pain. Your doctor can recommend medication, rest, and therapy for acute spinal cord injury. However, you may need spinal cord stimulation when you do not notice signs of improvement after these treatments.
  • Diabetic neuropathy. Diabetes affects nerve control, sensation, and movement functions. Neuropathy is a diabetes complication that occurs throughout the body. Excessive blood sugar impairs the nerves from transmitting signals. The pain associated with diabetic neuropathy can be relieved using a spine stimulator.
  • Pain after amputation. If you have undergone a medical or traumatic amputation, your doctor can recommend spinal cord stimulation.

Surgery for a Spinal Cord Stimulator

There are two primary processes for fitting a patient with a spinal cord stimulator:

Trial Phase

The first stage of spinal cord stimulation is trial. The surgeon places a temporary device to test your body’s reception to the treatment. An X-ray guides the surgeon to insert the electrodes into your spine. The pain location dictates where the device is to be placed. During the trial procedure, the surgeon may ask about your feedback and the best place to place these devices.

The trial phase will only require a single incision for electrode placement on your lower back. The other part of the device is a generator which you wear around your waist. For the next week, the surgeon will allow you to evaluate how the trial device adapts to your body and its effectiveness in pain relief. The procedure is considered effective if your pain reduces by up to 50% with the device.

Permanent Implantation

When the surgeon has ascertained that spinal cord stimulation is the right procedure for you, you will undergo permanent implantation of the device. The generator and the electrodes are placed inside the body and anchored using sutures to prevent movement and shifting of the device.

Permanent spinal cord stimulator implantation is an outpatient procedure that takes one to two hours. Your surgeon will apply local anesthesia and sterilize the incision area before placing all parts of the device in your body. Sedation allows you to be comfortable and be able to offer some feedback during the procedure.

You can go home on the same day as your permanent implantation procedure. Your doctor will offer tips on caring for the procedural site until you recover. Mostly, care after a surgical stimulator placement involves general care for an incision site and avoiding vigorous physical activity. Vigorous physical activity can cause misplacement or damage to the device.

Complications Associated with Spinal Cord Stimulation

Placement of a spinal cord stimulator is a safe procedure. However, no procedure comes without potential risks. Some patients report the following complication after the procedure:

  • Infection. One of the most dreaded side effects of any surgical procedure is infection. This risk arises when germs enter your body during the placement of the stimulator in your body. A skilled surgeon will sterilize the area before curing the skin to place the device. However, if you suffer an infection at the surgical site, you may need surgery to treat it.
  • Device shifting. There is a risk that your spinal cord stimulator will move from its original position. However, advancements in technology and the presence of special anchors for the device have reduced this risk.
  • Malfunction and breakage. Your spinal cord has interlocking bones. When these bones and their connective tissues bend, the hardware from the simulator cannot match the flexibility, resulting in malfunction or breakage.
  • Injury from a displaced or broken lead. When the device breaks or moves from its original location, it can damage the spinal cord and surrounding tissues. In serious cases, the damage to the spinal cord could be irreversible.
  • Generator failure or malfunction. A spinal cord stimulator relies on the pulse generator. The batteries used for the generator will need replacement after several years. Replacement of these batteries or repairing a broken generator will need another surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions on Surgical Stimulation

Pain is unpleasant for anyone and can affect multiple aspects of your life. In cases where you have tried other common ineffective treatments for pain relief, your doctor can recommend the placement of the spinal cord stimulator. Any surgery involving the spinal cord can be frightening. The following are commonly asked questions on spinal cord stimulation:

  1. Can I undergo a CT scan or X-ray with the stimulator?

Yes. There are no risks when the stimulator is off during an X-ray or CT scan. If you have a condition requiring this imaging type, you must inform your technician or doctor beforehand. If you are diagnosed with another condition and need surgery, the device's presence in your body should be part of your medical history.

  1. Will my stimulator be a problem during security checks?

A spine stimulator will set off security at the airport or other areas. However, your doctor can give you an identification card to help you avoid the machine. You can turn off your device if you must pass through the security machine.

  1. Can I swim with the spinal cord stimulator?

Swimming is not considered a vigorous activity if you have already been fitted with a permanent stimulator. However, you cannot engage in such an act during the trial phase. This is because the generator of the trial device is on the outside and should remain dry at all times.

  1. What is the success rate of spinal cord stimulation?

Up to 50% of individuals who undergo spinal cord stimulation surgery report a drastic improvement in their pain. However, the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation varies depending on the underlying cause of your pain and your health. For example, the device will be effective if you have a mental health disorder. For this reason, the best person to ask about the success of your procedure is your doctor.

  1. When do I need to consult my doctor?

After the placement of the device, your doctor will schedule several follow-up visits to check the effectiveness and your body’s response to the treatment. If you notice any of the following symptoms, you must seek immediate medical attention:

  • Headache, which worsens when you stand but subsides as you lie down. When you sit or stand, headache results from cerebrospinal fluid leaks and may indicate damaged dura mater.
  • Worsening of the pain. All individuals who undergo spinal cord stimulation surgery expect a reduction in pain. Unfortunately, the pain could worsen. If you experience more pain than you did without the device, you should consult your doctor. This could indicate that the treatment is ineffective, and the stimulator may need to be removed.
  • Symptoms of infection. Infection at the incision site is a common yet serious complication of spinal stimulation surgery. Some signs of infection you must look out for include discharge, pain, redness, and soreness.
  • Sudden muscle weakness. Numbness and weakness of muscles could occur on one side or both sides of the lead location. Damage of the spinal cord nerve from device damage could be the underlying cause of numbness and weakness.
  • Signs of sepsis. Sepsis is a full-body infection that triggers a life-threatening immune reaction. If you experience symptoms of sepsis, you must seek immediate care to avoid adverse effects like permanent damage or death.
  1. Can I have the spine stimulator removed?

Although most individuals with chronic pain will enjoy amazing benefits from the spinal cord stimulator, the treatment is not suitable for everyone. If the device placement doesn’t produce any change in relieving your pain or makes it worse, you can have it removed. Some patients will retain the device for two or three years before accepting that it is not the right treatment for them.

The procedure needed to remove your spine stimulator depends on its size and the type of lead used. Depending on your health, your surgeon will use local or general anesthesia to remove the device. If your stimulator is removed, you will need to explore other pain management options including:

  • Medication. Your doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory pain relievers.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps you cope with the pain.

 Find a Los Angeles Spine Surgeon Near Me.

Living with pain that does not go away can be devastating. In addition to constant discomfort, pain can significantly impact your quality of life. Fitting with spinal cord stimulators is a treatment option for many people with pain who have not responded to surgery and other common treatments. Spinal cord stimulation involves the placement of a device whose electrical impulses block pain.  

Thanks to technological advancement, this procedure has high success rates, and the complications are minimal. Your spinal cord is a critical part of the body which controls numerous functions. Therefore, you will not entrust the procedure to any specialist.

Before you receive the spinal cord stimulator, different specialists will assess your case to determine your eligibility for the procedure. At Dr. George Rappard’s Clinic, we understand how pain affects your life. We offer comprehensive services to all our patients dealing with serious pain in Los Angeles, CA. Call us at 424-777-7463 to discuss your condition.