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Advanced Institute

Are You a Candidate for a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

September 13, 2020 | Spinal Cord Stimulation

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The Cleveland Clinic defines chronic pain as “pain that is ongoing and lasts longer than six months.” It’s a public health crisis, as a number of studies estimate the prevalence of chronic pain in the United States somewhere between 11% and 40% of the population.

Chronic pain can stem from numerous physical and mental conditions. It lingers even after the illness or injury that caused it has resolved or healed, with pain signals remaining active anywhere from weeks to months to years. Some people even suffer from chronic pain without injury or other apparent body damage.

At Advanced Relief Institute in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Dr. Neel Amin, double-board certified in anesthesiology and interventional pain medicine, addresses pain through a multidisciplinary approach that attends to his patients’ physical and mental well-being.

One of the procedures he advocates for chronic pain when more conservative treatments have failed is the spinal cord stimulator. Here’s what you should know about the device and its uses.

What is a spinal cord stimulator, and what does it do?

Pain is nothing more than your body sending electrical signals along your nerves to your brain, which registers the signal as a painful stimulus. A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a small device designed to either interrupt that signal so it never reaches the brain or to alter the way the brain processes the signal so it doesn’t register as pain.

Spinal cord stimulation is more effective at treating neuropathic back and leg pain than repeated back surgeries or comprehensive pain management by itself.

The device is composed of a small pulse generator (the stimulator) and thin wires (leads) that are implanted in your lower back, buttocks, or abdominal cavity. The stimulator delivers small pulses of a mild electric current through the leads that hook up with specific spinal cord nerves. The impulses mask the pain signals from these nerves.

Some forms of SCS use a gentle tingling sensation (paresthesia) to replace the pain, while other forms produce no sensation at all. Everyone responds a bit differently to the therapy, but it’s considered a success if:

  • Your pain decreases by at least 50%
  • You can return to your daily activities
  • You require less pain medication
  • You’re able to relax and sleep better

It’s important to note that a spinal cord stimulator doesn’t remove the root cause of your pain; it changes the way you perceive the pain.

Am I a good candidate for a spinal cord stimulator?

SCS is used to treat pain that’s primarily neuropathic in origin — arising from nerve damage that doesn’t serve a protective purpose. The therapy is most commonly used for neuropathic back and leg pain, typically seen in 25% of patients following back surgery.

This therapy can:

  • Help avoid back surgery
  • Treat pain arising from complex regional pain syndrome
  • Treat pain associated with peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in the extremities)
  • Treat pain caused by ischemia (a circulatory system problem) and refractory angina
  • Treat chronic visceral pain, such as may occur after major abdominal or pelvic surgery

Patients considered for SCS have generally had chronic pain for more than a year and have no psychological issues that might complicate the procedure. If Dr. Neel Amin thinks you might be a good candidate, he first conducts a trial run.

He threads thin leads through a hollow needle inserted into the epidural space above your spinal canal. The leads have small electrical contacts at their ends, and they’re attached to a power supply that delivers a mild current. You receive a remote control device that allows you to turn stimulation on and off and adjust the stimulation level and target areas.

The trial generally lasts about seven days. If your pain decreases by at least 50% at the end of that time and if you show an improvement in function, Dr. Neel Amin implants a permanent device.

If you live in chronic pain and want to find out if a spinal cord stimulator can help you reclaim your life, call Advanced Relief Institute at 954-458-1199 or book your appointment online today.