Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an innovative treatment developed over many years to help patients who suffer from chronic neuropathic pain. It is intended for patients for whom more conservative treatments have proved unsuccessful.
Neuropathic pain is pain that results from damage to either the central or peripheral nervous systems. For example, diabetics suffering from neuropathic pain often feel sharp stabbing pains in the extremities, mainly the feet. Neuropathic pain can occur virtually anywhere depending on where the nervous system damage has occurred.
The main challenge with neuropathic pain is its debilitating nature. People suffering from neuropathy can be extremely sensitive even to the slightest touch. What would seem like a pinprick to most people could be immensely painful to a neuropathy patient.
A large majority of patients who have undergone SCS for testing purposes report significant pain relief. It is believed that the electrical stimulation provided by the treatment interrupts pain signals as they are sent to the brain. Many patients report their pain being replaced by a pleasant tingling sensation.
SCS involves the implantation of one or more insulated wires that provide constant electrical stimulation. The wires are inserted in one of two ways: via a small incision or through an epidural needle. The goal is to locate the ends of the wires in the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord.
In our trial procedure, we look for patients to give us feedback as the wires are inserted and tested. We look for the most appropriate locations that provide the most effective pain relief. When we believe we are blocking the patient’s pain as effectively as possible, we temporarily secure the wires in place. They are then connected to an external stimulator.
The stimulator provides electrical stimulation to the affected nerves for a period of one week. At follow-up, we consult with the patient to determine if the amount of pain relief warrants permanent implantation. If so, we will schedule a permanent implant of the device. In the meantime, we remove the stimulators we implanted and bandage the area.
There may be limited soreness at the site of the incisions or epidural needle insertion. Study trials have shown that SCS works for the majority of those who try it, but it does not work for everyone.