There are a number of conservative and aggressive treatments available to address chronic neck or back pain. Patients who make appointments with our neck and spine specialists are frequently treated using protocols ranging from over-the-counter medications and rest to minimally invasive spine surgery, and everything in between. Unfortunately, there are some patients for whom these treatments are simply not effective or appropriate. For these patients, the answer may lie with spinal cord stimulation.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
Spinal cord stimulation takes advantage of the mechanism by which the body transmits pain messages. The nervous system is complex: it is made up of interconnected cells called neurons that send messages between the spine and the brain through electrical impulses. Though this system has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to allow human brains to register sensations, when the message being sent is one of constant pain, it can have a devastating impact on the quality of a person’s life.
Spinal cord stimulation does not address the cause of the pain itself. Instead, it interrupts the pain signals by directing electrical impulses before they reach the brain, thus masking the sensation before it is actually felt. When the brain does not receive the signal, the patient does not experience the pain.
If your physician from our spine specialty practice in New Jersey believes that spinal cord stimulation can help you, you will go through a multi-step process. The first step involves the temporary placement of electrodes into the area of the spin that your surgeon believes will be most effective. The physician will activate the electrodes so that you can provide feedback as to their placement, and once they are placed properly the electrodes will be connected to a portable, handheld unit. You will then be sent home to observe your pain levels for a few days.
Once the trial period is up, you will return to your physician’s office for discussion of the level of pain relief you experienced. If the trial is considered a success, your physician will schedule a permanent implantation procedure of a spinal cord stimulator system that you will be able to manage using an external remote. The system itself is roughly the same size as a pacemaker. It is implanted under the skin in a quick procedure.
Spinal cord stimulation is not necessarily the right answer for all patients. Before suggesting the treatment protocol, it is common for patients to first be treated using conservative approaches, including massage, over-the-counter medications and short-term opioids, physical therapy and massage. Surgery is likely to be discussed, particularly for patients in whom a specific mechanical cause of pain has been identified. Still, in some cases, patients are not good candidates for surgery, and in other instances, a patient may have undergone surgery that proved unsuccessful.
If you believe that you are a candidate for spinal cord stimulation, the right place to start is with a conversation. Contact our office today to set up an appointment and speak to our compassionate professionals.