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Guide To Spinal Cord Stimulators: Restrictions and Real Benefits

Blue Ridge Region / 12 Apr 2024

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by EmergeOrtho
Guide To Spinal Cord Stimulators: Restrictions and Real Benefits

For anyone who has tried everything from physical therapy and medication to injections and surgery to manage their chronic pain, a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) may be the answer. An SCS is a device implanted in the spine that sends a mild electric current to the spinal cord. The currents interfere with the transmission of pain signals to the brain and can significantly reduce the sensation of pain. There are many benefits to SCSs, and though there are a few precautions to be aware of, there are no reported permanent restrictions following the spinal cord stimulator implant.

Spinal Cord Stimulation: How It Works

In this minimally invasive surgical procedure, spine surgeons implant a small pulse generator—called a stimulator—near the spine. The stimulators have thin wires—called leads—attached to them. The stimulator sends small pulses of mild electric current through the leads to specific nerves on the spinal cord. These pulses block the pain signals traveling to the brain.

Using a remote control, a patient can control the stimulator, turning it on and off, and increasing and decreasing the level of stimulation. The stimulator can also target different pain areas in the body using settings or programs designed for each individual. The stimulators do not get rid of the source of the pain. They aim to change the way the brain perceives it. While the amount of pain relief each patient experiences is different, many people who have had chronic pain for years can return to an active lifestyle with no permanent restrictions after the SCS implant.

Recovering From Surgery

Though implant surgery takes about 1-2 hours, recovery is a gradual process. Immediately following surgery, you may experience some discomfort and short-term restrictions on certain activities as your body heals. While there may be some temporary limitations initially, these will gradually diminish as your body adjusts to the presence of the implant. As you continue to recover from surgery, you will slowly reintegrate into your daily routine, including activities such as driving and returning to work.

Your surgeon will provide you with a personalized recovery plan, which includes follow-up visits so your doctor can measure your progress and adapt the plan accordingly. For most patients, there are no permanent restrictions after spinal cord stimulator implant surgery.

The Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulators

A senior female hiker standing in nature with her arms spread wide.Patients who have SCS implant surgery enjoy many improvements to their lives and work. Though each case is unique, there are some potential positive outcomes, including:

  • Improved mood and mental well-being: Some patients experience a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety, likely due to the alleviation of chronic pain and improved quality of life.
  • Better sleep quality: Relief from pain can lead to improved sleep patterns and overall better sleep quality, resulting in increased energy levels and daytime functioning.
  • Increased mobility and physical activity: With reduced pain, many individuals find themselves more willing and able to engage in physical activities and exercise, leading to improved strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.
  • Enhanced social life: Relief from chronic pain can enable individuals to participate more fully in social activities, leading to stronger relationships and a greater sense of connectedness with others.
  • Reduced reliance on pain medications: Many patients find that they can reduce or eliminate their use of pain medications following spinal cord stimulator implantation, thereby avoiding potential side effects and complications associated with long-term medication use.
  • Enhanced ability to work and pursue hobbies: With improved pain control, individuals may find that they can better focus and concentrate on their work and hobbies, leading to increased productivity and satisfaction.
  • Overall improvement in quality of life: Perhaps the most significant positive side effect of spinal cord stimulator implantation is the overall improvement in quality of life. With reduced pain and increased function, individuals can enjoy life more fully and pursue their goals and aspirations with renewed strength and enthusiasm.

While concerns regarding metal detectors and imaging procedures may arise with the implants, advancements in the device technology have largely mitigated these restrictions, ensuring patient safety and compatibility with routine medical assessments.

At EmergeOrtho, we are at the forefront of this continually evolving field of SCS. Our pain and spine specialists are board-certified or eligible and fellowship-trained in the most advanced pain management technologies. If you or a loved one experience chronic pain and conservative treatments have not helped, you may be a good candidate for a SCS. Learn more about our spine surgeons and the surgeries they perform. Let us help you Emerge Stronger. Healthier. Better.

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EmergeOrtho-Blue Ridge Region patients benefit from a full range of orthopedic services, including diagnostics, imaging, treatment, physical and occupational therapy, and pain management. From conservative care to surgical interventions, our team of specialists provides expert care and real results. Self-schedule or request your appointment today.