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Spinal Cord Stimulation: Your Experience

Pain messages travel over nerve pathways to the spinal cord, inside the spine. The spinal cord sends the messages to the brain. Constant pain messages can cause long-term pain that's hard to treat. This is called chronic pain. Spinal cord stimulation uses a medical device to send signals to the nerve pathways inside your spinal cord. These signals help block the pain.

Your doctor does a stimulator placement in 2 stages. First is a trial stage to see how well it works. If the trial is a success, the permanent stimulator system is put in place.

Before you agree to this procedure, ask the doctor these questions:

  • Why do I need this procedure?

  • Are there any alternatives?

  • How many times have you done this procedure?

  • What are the complications?

  • When will I see the results?

If you don't feel comfortable asking these questions, ask a family member or friend to come with you to ask them. The answers are key to your health and safety.

Healthcare provider with electronic tablet talking to woman and man.
Discuss the results of the trial stage with your doctor.

Getting ready at home

Your doctor will advise you on how to get ready for the procedures. Tell your doctor what medicines you take, and ask if you should stop taking any of them. Don't eat or drink for 8 hours before you check in for the procedures. Certain criteria must be met to be a good candidate for the spinal cord stimulation device.

Placing the trial leads

Your doctor will place the trial leads under the skin on your back through a small incision. One end of the leads is placed near your spinal cord. Your doctor will attach the other end of the leads to the stimulator power source. They will then adjust the stimulator to the right level. For the trial stage, you wear the power source outside your body.

The trial stage

Your doctor will instruct you to keep a second pain log during the trial stage. You can compare this log with your first pain log to show how well the stimulator system is working for you.

Placing the permanent system

If the trial stimulator works well for you, a permanent system might be indicated. This must be done in a hospital or outpatient surgical center. Prepare for it as instructed. The receiver or the power source is implanted under the skin on your abdomen or buttocks. The power source is small, so it won’t show under your clothing. Some devices are rechargeable After the system is in place, the settings are checked to make sure they are at the right level for you. If needed, the device can be removed at any time. Not all these systems are MRI compatible. Find out from your doctor if you still can have an MRI once the system is installed.

After the procedures

You may stay in the hospital overnight. The implant site will be sore for a few days. The leads need some time to become fixed so they don’t move around. Your doctor will tell you what activities to avoid for the next month or so.

When to call your doctor

Call your doctor right away if you:

  • Have fever over 100.4°F ( 38°C)

  • Have chills

  • Have pain, drainage, or increased redness at the implant site

  • Don't feel the stimulation anymore

Also call your doctor if the pain symptoms return.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jimmy Moe MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2021
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