Spinal Cord Stimulation: A Different Way to Alleviate Back and Neck Pain - Crozer-Keystone Health System - PA

Published on February 08, 2017

Spinal Cord Stimulation: A Different Way to Alleviate Back and Neck Pain

For those who experience chronic neck or back pain, the discomfort seems never-ending. Back surgeries and other traditional treatments may provide relief for a period, but for some people, the burning, shooting and stabbing pains just keep coming back. Fortunately, these patients have another option to consider: spinal cord stimulation (SCS). Also known as neurostimulation, spinal cord stimulation can provide relief for patients who find that back surgery, epidural steroid injections, or medications to alleviate pain and facilitate healing just aren’t enough.

How Does It Work?

“When you hit the corner of a table, what’s your first instinct?” says Uplekh Purewal, M.D., an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “Your absolute first instinct is to rub. You start rubbing it because you’re trying to rub down the pain. What spinal cord stimulators do is they actually work to rub down the pain in a similar way.”

Spinal cord stimulation involves sending mild electrical pulses down the spinal cord to block the brain from receiving pain messages from your back. The SCS device is implanted under your skin in your lower back, and a small wire from the device carries electrical pulses to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. The stimulation from the device feels like a mild tingling in the area where the pain is normally felt.

The wire and battery pack where the pulses are generated are both very small, making implantation minimally invasive.

Is Spinal Cord Stimulation for Me?

Approximately 14,000 patients choose to undergo spinal cord stimulation surgery every year. The most common reason is failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), which is the medical term used to describe persistent back, leg or arm pain following a back surgery. However, spinal cord stimulation can also alleviate the discomfort caused by a number of other conditions including arachnoiditis, complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), and chronic leg or arm pain. Essentially, anyone who experiences pain as the result of a nerve route compression or nerve injury may be a good candidate.

A Two-Stage Process

The SCS device is implanted on an outpatient basis through a two-stage process to ensure that it will work for the patient. The goal of the trial stage is to see if the stimulator works to reduce pain by at least 50 percent before moving on to permanent implantation. If the trial is successful, you can move on to the second stage, which is permanent implantation of the device. This second part of the surgery is also performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia.

Will Spinal Cord Stimulation Really Help?

Ultimately, every patient is different and should have a conversation with their doctor to see if spinal cord stimulation is the right choice for them. Catherine DeGregorio, M.D., anesthesiologist and pain management specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System, explains, “We take the time to really assess patients and educate them about themselves. That helps them help us to get them better.”

Spinal cord stimulation is not for everyone, which is why the trial period and a careful screening process are necessary to determine the potential benefits. However, patients who are good candidates usually report at least a 50 percent reduction in pain following the procedure. In addition, Dr. Purewal says that, often, SCS patients are able to cut back on medications they’ve been taking for years and return to an active lifestyle.

What is Chronic Pain

Oftentimes, illnesses or injuries cause significant, lasting pain that over-the-counter pain medications just can't handle. Typically, pain that lasts longer than six weeks is considered chronic pain and should be evaluated by a physician.

If you are experiencing chronic pain, ask your primary care doctor about Crozer-Keystone's comprehensive pain management services.

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