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Spinal Cord Stimulation – A Review

October 10, 2021

Call Us Today: 952-841-2345

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October 10, 2021 Jeff Blanchard

Spinal Cord Stimulation – A Review

Banner for Spinal Cord Stimulation-A Review-Blog-X Ray image of human body with SCS device implanted

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) is a highly effective, drug-free therapy for providing lasting, effective relief from chronic pain. But what is spinal cord stimulation? How well does spinal cord stimulation work? Is there a “best” spinal cord stimulator device? In this blog, we review and answer these and more of the most frequently asked SCS questions!

  1. What is spinal cord stimulation?
  2. How do I know if spinal cord stimulation (SCS) will work for me?
  3. What does spinal cord stimulation feel like?
  4. Will spinal cord stimulation therapy completely eliminate my chronic pain?
  5. Will spinal cord stimulation eliminate other sources of pain?
  6. What is the best spinal cord stimulator for me?
  7. Is spinal cord stimulation a new therapy?
  8. Is spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain covered by my insurance?

What is spinal cord stimulation?

Spinal cord stimulation is an advanced, highly specialized pain management therapy that utilizes electricity to interrupt pain signals. The device involved in the therapy is a spinal cord stimulator and is comprised of two parts, the leads and the generator. The leads are basically thin, sterilized wires with a series of tiny electrodes on one end. The electrode side of the leads are placed next to specific nerves along the spinal cord that are associated with your pain. The other end of the leads are attached to a small battery (barely larger than a silver dollar), called the pulse generator.

The generator is implanted in the upper buttock or lower abdomen. The generator emits mild electrical pulses which are carried by the leads directly to the troublesome nerves. The electric pulses “stimulate” the nerves, which blocks pain signals before they can reach the brain, resulting in significant pain relief. The stimulation settings can be adjusted using a small remote

Spinal cord stimulation system-Battery-Leads-Remote-Tablet

How do I know if spinal cord stimulation (SCS) will work for me?

The first step is to meet with a pain management specialist to discuss your pain and treatment history. You will review details such as the type of pain, its severity, its location, and your response to past pain treatment. If your provider thinks you are a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation, you can complete a trial to see if it will provide adequate pain relief. That’s right, you can undergo a trial period to see how spinal cord stimulation will affect you during your everyday life. During the trial, you wear the battery externally on a special belt. It functions the same and provides the same kind of relief you would experience from the permanent implant. The trial generally lasts about one week. If you and your provider agree that you experienced adequate relief during the trial, you may choose to proceed with the permanent implant.

What does spinal cord stimulation feel like?

Your stimulator device has numerous programming levels that can be adjusted to deliver your preferred sensation and pain relief. With some device models and settings, you may feel a slight tingling sensation, called a paresthesia, in place of pain. In other instances, you will not feel anything at all!

Will spinal cord stimulation therapy completely eliminate my chronic pain?

Typically, most people experience significant and sustained reduction in chronic pain. However, spinal cord stimulation does not eliminate the physical, root source of the pain, so the amount of pain reduction can vary from person to person. Spinal cord stimulation therapy is not a cure for chronic pain. But it is a highly effective way to help relieve and manage your pain so you can enjoy improved quality of life.

Middle aged African American couple in a kayak

Will spinal cord stimulation eliminate other sources of pain?

Spinal cord stimulation therapy is specially designed to target nerves in the spine that are primarily associated with chronic neuropathic pain in the back or neck. As such, SCS will not provide relief from other types of pain such as headaches, stomach aches, fractures, etc.

What is the best spinal cord stimulator for me?

Many of the world’s top medical device companies produce their own model of spinal cord stimulator. Medtronic, Abbott, Boston Scientific, and Nevro all have their own proprietary SCS systems, and each one is a marvel of medical engineering. The best stimulator for you will depend on the type and source of your pain, as well as your pain management plan of care. Your provider will review these details with you and can then determine the stimulator they believe will provide you with the greatest amount of pain relief. So, there may be a “best” spinal cord stimulator for each individual, but there is no one best system overall.

Is spinal cord stimulation a new therapy?

It is not! Spinal cord stimulation was introduced as a treatment for chronic pain back in the late 1960s and was officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1984. However, recent technological breakthroughs have resulted in spinal cord stimulators that are significantly more effective and can fit in the palm of your hand, with room to spare. Extensive research and development have also recently produced more specialized stimulations settings, targeted lead placements, and remote programming options, all allowing for even more optimal relief outcomes.

FUN FACT: The basic theory of electrical stimulation of the nervous system goes all the way back to ancient Rome!

Is spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain covered by my insurance?

Spinal cord stimulation therapy is covered by most insurance carriers. As with the majority of pain treatments, you will need an approval from your insurance company before you can receive SCS treatment for your chronic pain. Insurance carriers usually require you to try conservative treatments first, such as physical therapy.

Medicare – Spinal cord stimulators are approved for coverage by Medicare, as long as the procedure is determined to be medically necessary. Like most insurance carriers, Medicare usually requires you to try conservative treatments first, such as physical therapy.

Workers’ Compensation – Most workers’ compensation carriers cover SCS with an approval before treatment.

Conclusion

In review, spinal cord stimulation is a well-established, highly-effective treatment for managing chronic pain. With a wide selection of advanced and incredibly specialized models available, every spinal cord stimulation patient can receive the right device that is best suited to their needs. As substantial advancements are regularly introduced into the field, spinal cord stimulation should become an ever more prominent and desirable solution for managing pain and restoring quality of life.

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