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How Spinal Stimulators Can Help with Chronic Back and Leg Pain?

Millions of Americans live with chronic back pain. This condition can become debilitating and negatively impact your quality of life. Many people look for a more permanent solution than pain pills and physical therapy. 

Spinal cord stimulation provides an alternative to medication and therapy. Here’s what the doctors at Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine want you to know about spinal stimulators and what you can expect from one of these devices.

How a spinal cord stimulator works

There are nerves throughout your body. If you’re injured or have a chronic condition, your nerves send pain signals to your brain. A condition is considered chronic if it lasts for six months or longer.

A spinal cord stimulator is a small device that is implanted in your lower back, and it sends tiny pulses of electrical current through thin wires to the problematic nerves in your spine. These pulses of electrical current interrupt the pain signals to decrease your sensation of pain. You will be given a remote control to adjust the level of stimulation.

In addition to being used for treating back pain, spinal cord stimulators can also help with other conditions, including angina, neuropathy, and complex regional pain syndrome.

The trial period

Before deciding to implant a permanent spinal cord stimulator, we typically perform a trial to see how well the implant works for you. We insert the wires in your back, but we place the stimulator outside your body. This procedure is done in an outpatient setting and typically takes 30 minutes. 

You’ll have the stimulator for 3-7 days, during which you can evaluate how well it manages your pain. We’ll consider it a success if it reduces your pain by at least 50%. Most people feel a slight buzzing or fluttering sensation instead of pain, though some people only notice an absence of pain.

Surgery and recovery

If the trial is successful, the stimulator can be implanted. The surgery is often performed as an outpatient procedure. During the surgery, we place the stimulator in your lower back, normally above the buttock. The wires are also linked from the implant to the problematic nerves in your spine. 

We advise our patients to expect 6-8 weeks of recovery time. You may feel some swelling and soreness at the incision site. This swelling typically goes away within a couple of days.

In the short-term recovery phase, you’ll want to avoid certain activities that can cause damage to the implant or wires. Among the activities to avoid include the following:

You’ll want to generally stick to only light activities during the recovery period. But most people find that they are able to return to normal activities once fully healed. You can even swim with a spinal stimulator, as long as the device is turned off.

Long-term use

A spinal stimulator implant can provide relief for years. Most people will never know that you have the device unless you tell them. You can still go about your normal activities, including flying and driving. However, you’ll need to tell airport security that you have the device, and you’ll need to keep it turned off while driving. 

Keep in mind that it may not provide complete relief of your pain, but most people find that it minimizes it to a point where it is more manageable.

Spinal cord stimulators are powered by batteries, often rechargeable ones. The lifespan for these batteries is around 10 years, at which point you can have the battery replaced. Single-cell batteries usually have to be replaced every 3-4 years.

However, the results from the device should remain consistent for many years. You can expect long-term results from a spinal cord stimulator. If you’re living with chronic back pain that hasn’t responded to other treatments, this device might be a good option. To find out if it’s right for you, book an appointment online or over the phone with Wellington Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine today.

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