Spinal cord stimulation uses low voltage stimulation of the spinal nerves to block the feeling of pain. It helps you to better manage your pain and potentially decrease the amount of pain medication. It may be an option if you have long-term (chronic) leg or arm pain, and have not found relief through traditional methods. A small battery-powered generator implanted in the body transmits an electrical current to your spinal cord. The result is a tingling sensation instead of pain. By interrupting pain signals, the procedure has shown success in returning some people to a more active lifestyle.
What is a spinal cord stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator, also known as a dorsal column stimulator, is a device surgically placed under your skin to send a mild electric current to your spinal cord. A small wire carries the current from a pulse generator to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. When turned on, the stimulation feels like a mild tingling in the area where pain is felt. Your pain is reduced because the electrical current interrupts the pain signal from reaching your brain.
The spinal cord stimulator system consists of a pulse generator implanted under the skin of your buttock or abdomen. An extension wire connects the pulse generator to the lead, which is implanted above the spinal cord. The lead contains 4-16 electrodes and delivers the electric current to the spinal nerves.
Stimulation does not eliminate the source of pain, it simply interferes with the signal to the brain, and so the amount of pain relief varies for each person. Also, some patients find the tingling sensation unpleasant. For these reasons a trial stimulation is performed before the device is permanently implanted. The goal for spinal cord stimulation is a 50-70% reduction in pain. However, even a small amount of pain reduction can be significant if it helps you to perform your daily activities with less pain and reduces the amount of pain medication you take. Stimulation does not work for everyone. If unsuccessful, the implant can be removed and does not damage the spinal cord or nerves.
There are many types of stimulation systems. The most common is an internal pulse generator with a battery. A spinal cord stimulator system consists of:
- An implantable pulse generator with battery that creates electrical pulses.
- A lead with a number of electrodes (4-16) that delivers electrical pulses to the spinal cord.
- An extension wire that connects the pulse generator to the lead.
- A hand-held remote control that turns the pulse generator on and off and adjusts the pulses.