Spinal Cord Stimulation: How it Works for Relieving Chronic Back and Neck Pain

November 9, 2020

Many people are burdened by chronic pain in the back and neck. In some cases, the pain is not resolved by traditional treatments and surgery. One other option that they can consider is to have spinal cord stimulation. 

A growing number of patients have undergone spinal cord stimulation implants (SCS) around the word. This method works by delivering gentle electrical stimulation in the nerves in the spinal column. It modifies or blocks nerve activities to lessen the sensation of pain that reaches the brain.  

Spinal cord stimulation is also referred to as neurostimulation. It is a device that is implanted near the spine to generate gentle electrical pulses that will interfere with the messages passing the spine. It works like a cardiac pacemaker, thus some users call it the pacemaker for pain. 

 

Why Is There a Growing Interest in SCS?

Spinal cord stimulation has been utilized to address various health conditions for decades. It is a recommended therapy to help in neuropathy, lumbar and cervical radiculitis, failed back surgery syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome.   

Over the years, there are innovations and smaller devices that made implantation of SCS less invasive and made it more compatible with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). It made people more interested in trying it out as an option after having back surgery, as well as for chronic back and neck pain.

Likewise, the efforts on lowering reliance on pain medication also opened up considerations for alternative pain-relief that does not involve medications such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, and spinal cord stimulation therapy. 

 

SCS Trial Periods Gives Patients an Option

Unlike treatment options that involve surgery,  patients may first have spinal cord stimulation on a trial period. A patient will undergo a two-step trial screen before the trial period. This process will screen out those that are likely to benefit from the treatment.  And in case a patient no longer wants to continue, it will be easily removed through a simple and painless process. 

Spinal cord stimulation does not work for all patients, thus careful screening is essential. There are people who are ideal candidates for the treatment plan, however, only 50 percent reports reduction in pain and improvement in daily functioning. Likewise, there are also patients who start lowering their painkiller medications once they start with SCS. 

 

Peripheral Nerve Field Stimulation is Similar to SCS

Apart from spinal cord stimulation, the use of Peripheral Nerve Field Stimulation is another optional treatment for chronic pain that is not managed through surgery. However, peripheral nerve field stimulation is not implanted, rather, the devices are attached under the skin in the area near the nerves that are involved in pain. In some cases, it is possible to both have the SCS and the PNFT for pain management and treatment. 

 

Who Performs SCS on Patients?

There are several medical practitioners that may perform spinal cord stimulation for their patients. This group includes anesthesiologist, physiatrists, neurosurgeons, pain specialist and orthopedic spine surgeon. 

If you are interested to undergo SCS therapy, you may ask your specialist for other patients who have tried the stimulation and pursued a permanent implant. If there is a high percentage of patients who pursued a permanent implant, it means that the specialist is careful in screening candidates for the process.   

It is important to find a doctor with experience in SCS because more experience means better expertise. It is a rapidly changing treatment alternative with new devices coming out in the market. Specialists are more likely to adapt to the latest devices and techniques. 

 

Chronic Back and Neck Pain and Other

Spinal cord stimulation may be recommended for various painful conditions that are not managed with conventional medication. One of the most common reasons why people pursue this process is having the failed back surgery syndrome. It is the chronic pain felt after one or more neck or back surgery that failed to alleviate persistent pain in the lower back, neck, leg and arms. 

SCS therapy is also helpful in alleviating pain related to other conditions such as:    

  • Chronic back pain with or without pain in the legs
  • Arachnoiditis or the scarring and painful inflammation of the meninges of the spinal nerves 
  • Chronic neck pain
  • Complex regional pain syndrome, which is a chronic progressive disease with swelling and severe pain or constant burning
  • Refractory Angina or chest pain with fatigue and shortness of breath 
  • Peripheral Neuropathy or the constant burning pain of the legs due to drying of distant nerves. 

At present, spinal cord stimulation is suggested for various painful health issues. However, it requires strict screening for patients for the process. Expert doctors will arrange a trial period and observe how well this therapy works to make the patient feel better.  

 

When is SCS Not Advised on a Patient?

Although spinal cord stimulation therapy has very promising effects on most patients, it is not recommended for everyone. Doctors conduct thorough screening of patients before they proceed with the trial phase. SCS is not recommended for the following cases - 

Patients with systemic infection, and those with infection on the area where the device will be planted.

Patients with severe depression and other mental conditions contributing to the pain. 

Those that use demand-type cardiac pacemakers.  

Patients with untreated drug addiction

Those with untreated bleeding disorders. 

Studies show that tobacco use impacts the negative outcomes when it comes to spinal cord stimulation therapy. Smokers will be advised to quit before they start SCS. Likewise, the use of recreational drugs may reduce the efficacy of the therapy. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Spinal Cord Stimulation

Chronic back and neck pain is a condition that affects the quality of life of a patient. Finding effective treatment for this is very challenging for many. In some cases, medication, non-invasive treatment and even surgery are unsuccessful.The use of spinal cord stimulation may offer relief and improve daily functions of a patient. More so, SCS are advantageous for the following reasons:

SCS Therapy is reversible

One major advantage of using spinal cord stimulation is that a patient can decide whether to pursue or continue the therapy. It can be removed without any lasting changes to the spine.

Customized Pain Relief

Because pain levels vary individually, modern spinal cord stimulators come with a pain adjustment option in a hand-held controller. Some units automatically adjust pain levels according to the person’s movements. It is a welcome feature for those who have chronic pain conditions.   

Minimal invasive process

Spinal cord stimulators are implanted in the spinal area, and to do that, a small incision is made to put it in place. The leads with electrodes are done using a hollow needle instead of another incision. This treatment option comes with minimal size effects and is reversible. 

Helps Reduce the Need for Painkillers

With the help of SCS therapy, people who experience chronic pain begin to reduce their intake of pain medications. In fact, reports show that some patients significantly reduced or stopped their opioid medication since starting therapy.  

Targeted pain relief

Most pain medication targets the whole body leading to constipation, sleepiness and other issues unrelated to the discomfort. Using SCS provides pain relief where it is most needed. 

Cost-effective Option

Over time, patients discover that pursuing spinal cord stimulation therapy is more cost-effective than using non-surgical treatment options. 

On the other hand, there are also some disadvantages in using this option for chronic back and neck pain. Generally, SCS therapy does not eliminate all pain that a patient experiences. It will only reduce pain on a significant level to cut back or eliminate the need for pain medications. Other reported cons include the following:

Device-related complications

Though generally safe, there are potential risks associated with the use of spinal cord stimulation therapy. Some patients have device-related issues and complications due to unintended movement, breakage or failed connections of the leads. 

Surgery is Required to Implant Device

Patients need to undergo a short procedure to insert the spinal cord stimulation device near the spine. There are risks of infection and bleeding that comes with it. Recovery period takes six to eight weeks, and there are patients that experience pain in the area after the procedure.

Other potential disadvantages of using SCS therapy include fluctuations in stimulation, reactions to pressure, unresolved pain and discomfort around the device.  

Spinal cord stimulation is far from perfect in addressing chronic back and neck pain. While it has a lot of advantages, there are still disadvantages and it is not for everyone. Only those with high chances of enjoying its benefits should pursue SCS therapy for long term.  

Chiropractic Care As  A Safe Treatment for Chronic Back and Neck Pain

Most pain problems, even chronic back and neck pain conditions respond to chiropractic treatment and care. If you are hesitant to pursue spinal cord stimulation or have been declined as a potential candidate for it, you should consider chiropractic care instead. Debole Chiropractic Family Care and Sports Rehab Center offers a wide range of services to help your body recover, work as it should and for you to achieve optimal wellness. 

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Location: 6280 Route 96 Victor, NY 14564 US
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DeBole Chiropractic
6280 NY-96, Victor, NY 14564
(585) 648-8239
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