A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a device that is implanted under the skin to provide on-demand relief from nerve pain originating in the spinal cord. SCS is a battery-operated generator that produces low voltage electric currents. When these currents are delivered directly to the spinal cord via electrodes, they interrupt pain signals and provide relief.
This procedure is reserved for patients who have not gotten significant pain relief from medication, physical therapy, injections, nerve blocks, and other nonsurgical options. It is performed in our office using IV sedation and local anesthetic. A trial is first done to ensure accuracy of electrode placement. After the trial is proven successful, the battery is implanted during a second procedure.
Since pain signals travel up and down nerves like electricity through wires, an effective way to stop pain in its tracks is to interrupt those signals using electricity. This device interrupts pain signals from traveling from the spinal cord to the brain. A disruption in nerve signaling stops the brain from registering the pain, thus providing effective relief.
Your spinal cord stimulator will come with a handheld remote control that you can turn on as needed. The remote allows you to adjust the amount of low-voltage current being delivered. You can also direct the current to the specific zones where you need relief. This device can be activated anytime and anywhere to instantly reduce pain.
One of the many benefits of this device is that most patients can greatly lower their need for opiate painkillers. Once implanted, the electrical current will help your brain to no longer perceive pain along those nerve pathways. This device does not stop pain from happening; rather, it stops your brain from perceiving it.
At Pacific Pain & Wellness Group, our team is highly skilled and experienced with providing non-surgical pain relief options that can help you avoid surgery whenever possible.
For some patients, however, SCS surgery may be the only viable option. Our pain management specialists have been doing spinal cord stimulation surgery for years. Many happy patients have reported successful results from their procedure.
How an SCS System Can Improve Your Life
Chronic pain can rob you of enjoying the people and things you love the most. For many patients, pain can also cause depression, anxiety, and inactivity. Exercise has been shown to greatly improve depression; staying active can be an effective part of an overall treatment plan for someone with chronic pain and depression.
With chronic pain, just moving around can be a miserable experience. Many people with this condition have trouble walking, running, golfing, and doing other activities they love. Without regular physical activity, they may begin to experience “stiffness” and body aches.
Lack of physical activity is also linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. A spinal cord stimulation device can give you back enough comfort to stay mobile and active. This can have a significantly positive impact on your health, both in the short term and long term.
Another huge benefit of SCS is that many people are able to decrease their intake of opiate painkillers. Taking lower doses of opiates can help reduce side effects such as dependence, tolerance, constipation, drowsiness, impaired judgment, nausea or vomiting, and dizziness.
How Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery is Done
This procedure carries a low risk for complications when performed by an expert surgeon. Our team has performed many of these procedures over the years, and we have some of the most trusted specialists in Southern California. We will go over all of the risks with you and help you decide if this procedure is right for you.
Before your procedure, you will have a pre-op appointment with one of our doctors to go over your current medications and medical history. This is a very important step because certain medications, vitamin supplements, or medical conditions can put you at greater risk for surgical complications.
On the day of your surgery:
- You will need to fast for 8 hours before surgery to ensure that your stomach is empty.
- Our nurse will start an IV to deliver sedative medication that will help you feel relaxed and sleepy during the procedure.
- Local anesthetic will be injected into the areas where the device will be implanted to help numb those areas so you don’t feel pain.
- A responsible adult will need to drive you home after surgery.
To provide the greatest amount of pain relief, the first procedure is called a “trial.” Your trial procedure will help your doctor determine the exact position where the leads will deliver the low-voltage current. This allows your doctor to find and target the nerves that are causing pain.
The “trial leads,” which exit the skin, will be secured in place to the skin and taped to either side of your body for maximum comfort. Recovery is fairly quick. Usually within a couple of days, post-op soreness and swelling are nearly gone.
You will be given a list of post-op restrictions such as NOT:
- Lifting anything over 5 pounds
- Doing vigorous exercise
- Lifting your arms above your head
- Rotating your back
- Making bending movements.
These restrictions will be in place for a period of time until your doctor sees that you’ve healed enough to resume those activities.
Our team will provide you with all you need to know to control your SCS device in ways that will best manage your pain. If the pain isn’t fully relieved, the lead wire placement will be adjusted.
After fully healing, if you need additional pain management support, your doctor can add pain medications to your treatment routine to help you live as pain-free as possible.
Painful Conditions that SCS Can Treat
A spinal cord stimulation device is usually very successful when treating chronic pain caused by the following conditions:
- Radicular pain: Chronic pain or loss of sensation in the neck or back. With this condition, pain can radiate down into the foot. A herniated disc can also result in radicular pain by pressing into a nerve bundle in the spinal cord and aggravating soft tissue, ligaments, and tendons in the immediate area. In most cases, an MRI can help diagnose the cause of radicular pain.
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) (types I and II): This is usually diagnosed when severe chronic pain occurs in an extremity on one side of the body. Type I (also called reflex sympathetic dystrophy syndrome) is diagnosed in individuals who have not suffered an injury. Type II CRPS (also called causalgia) occurs after a known traumatic injury. The average age of onset is around age 40. Complex regional pain syndrome appears to stem from destruction or dysfunction of nerves in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system.
- Peripheral mononeuropathy: This condition occurs when a single peripheral nerve is being compressed. Symptoms can involve loss of muscle strength, twitching or cramping, tingling or prickling sensations (pins & needles), chronic pain, or numbness.
- Refractory angina pectoris: This condition occurs when chronic chest pain lingers after a heart attack or bypass surgery. After other methods have failed to provide relief, an SCS device can deliver low voltage current to the affected nerve(s) to curb the pain.
- Ischemic peripheral vascular disease: This condition is common in people with diabetes and is caused by nerve pain from poor circulation. It usually occurs in the leg or foot and is sometimes called critical limb ischemia.
How the Spinal Cord is Involved in Pain
Your spinal cord is the central place where your nerves originate from and branch out to reach other body parts. The spinal cord is protected by your vertebrae, or back bones, which extend from the top of your neck down to your tailbone.
The spinal cord is the place where nerve signals travel from your body to your brain. When pain signals reach your brain, you recognize that sensation as pain, which gives you the feeling of pain or discomfort. These pain signals are meant to alert you that something in your body is injured or damaged.
Chronic pain that won’t go away or pain that radiates to other areas can be a sign that the spinal cord may be involved. When other treatment methods haven’t provided adequate relief, SCS may be your best hope for feeling better and improving your quality of life.
Where on the Spine is Pain Located?
Face & Neck Pain: Your C2 cervical space (upper neck) sends and receives nerve signals from the spinal cord to the face and neck. Chronic pain in the lower face region (below the upper jaw) may indicate damage or injury to the top of the spinal cord in this area. To relieve pain stemming from the cervical spinal area, the electrode leads would be placed in the C2 and/or C3 epidural space (empty space between the bones).
Neck, Shoulder, & Hand Pain: The C2 to C4 areas of the spinal cord are responsible for pain felt in the neck as well as pain that radiates into the shoulder and down into the hand. When an injury or damage occurs in this upper-to-mid cervical area, chronic pain can occur.
Forearm & Hand Pain: When the spinal cord suffers damage in the C4 to C7 portion of the spinal cord, pain can radiate into the forearm and/or hand. An SCS device can stop these pain signals at the source and provide relief.
Front of the Shoulder Pain: Chronic pain in the front of the shoulder may be an indication that the spinal cord in the C7 to T1 areas are involved. The “T” area of the spine is the thoracic region, which is located directly behind the chest in the upper center of the back. When pain is located in the front of the shoulder (and other causes have been ruled out) your doctor may recommend an SCS device to provide relief.
Chest Wall Pain: If you have chronic pain in the chest wall (also called angina pectoris) that has not gone away with medication or bypass surgery, an SCS device may be recommended to interrupt pain signals in the T1 to T2 area of the spine.
Abdominal Pain: Pain in the abdomen that is not relieved through standard treatment methods may benefit from implantation of an SCS device. The placement of the electrodes would be located in the T5 to T6 area of the spinal cord.
Back & Leg Pain: Pain that won’t go away in the lower back or legs can originate from the thoracic area of the spinal cord. If you are diagnosed with treatment-resistant pain in these areas, your doctor may place the SCS electrodes in the T7 to T9 areas.
Limb & Foot Pain: For pain in a limb, electric current can be delivered to the T10 to T12 areas to address upper limb pain or to the S1 (sacral) area to affect lower limb pain. For foot pain, your surgeon will focus on stimulating the spinal cord in T12, L1 (lumbar spine), or L5. Your skilled pain management specialist will properly diagnose where your pain is coming from so that the SCS device is placed properly.
Pelvic & Rectal Pain: Pain in the pelvic region can stem from the L1 or S2 to S4 areas of the spine, so the leads would be directed into one or more of these areas to provide relief.
Tailbone Pain: When the tailbone is constantly in pain whether standing, sitting, or lying down, an SCS electrode can be placed near the coccyx (the very bottom of the spinal cord) to provide relief.
Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) in Torrance, Los Angeles
From your very first consultation, you’ll feel the care and expertise that our pain management team dedicates to your concerns. We will spend quality time with you to understand exactly what you’re going through, what you’ve tried so far, and what we can do to take your relief to the next level.
For over a decade, Pacific Pain & Wellness Group has treated thousands of patients experiencing chronic pain from medical conditions, injuries, accidents, and physical trauma. We are experts in identifying the source of a patient’s pain and helping them feel better with tried and true treatments – like spinal cord stimulation.
Contact our board certified doctors today for a private consultation so we can develop a custom-tailored treatment plan to help you live with less pain. We care about you as much as you do.
Start living your best life by calling us today in Torrance, Los Angeles at (310) 437-7399.