Back pain can be one of the most uncomfortable kinds of pain to live with, and one of the most difficult types of pain to treat. Common treatments include surgery, injections, medications or rehab therapy. If these don’t work, or aren’t possible, chronic back pain can sometimes be treated with spinal cord stimulation.
Spinal Cord Stimulation involves sending low-level electrical signals directly to the spinal cord. These signals are sent by a device that is implanted in the body. Since the device itself uses electricity, it contains a power source. Most stimulator devices have power sources that can be charged through the skin, so no external power pack or battery is required.
Before such a device is implanted, it’s important to know the chances for pain relief. Since there are so many causes of back pain, and so many different ways in which patients respond to treatment, doctors perform a “spinal cord stimulator trial” for 5-10 days. This trial helps the doctor determine whether or not spinal cord stimulation will work for a specific patient.
In the trial, the doctor implants temporary wires near the spinal cord in the location that contains the nerves involved in signaling pain. These wires are attached to an external stimulator device that responds to a handheld stimulator control. For the next 5 to 10 days the patient is able to control the device, causing it to send out low-level electrical signals to the nerves when pain is experienced. A trial is considered successful when there is at least a 50% reduction in pain and improvement in physical functioning.
If the trial is successful, the doctor will implant a long-term device in the patient. This device is able to be charged through the skin. Regular follow up appointments will be needed. The device should last for several years before a battery replacement is needed.