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What Is Spinal Cord Stimulation and Is It Right for You?

Feb 14, 2024
What Is Spinal Cord Stimulation and Is It Right for You?
Spinal cord stimulation is an advanced therapy for pain that doesn’t respond to more conservative treatments. Here, learn how this state-of-the-art treatment works and whether it might be effective for your specific type of pain.

Spinal cord stimulation is a state-of-the-art pain therapy that works by disrupting pain signaling at its source. Typically considered when other therapies have failed, spinal cord stimulation uses an implantable device that lets you control the level of pain control based on your symptoms.

At Metro Spine PC, our team offers spinal cord stimulation for patients with stubborn, treatment-resistant pain, using a patient-centered approach to ensure maximum results. Here, learn how this therapy works and when we typically recommend it.

Spinal cord stimulation 101

Your spinal cord is a long tube or cord composed of a variety of tissues, including the nerves that travel from your brain all the way down to the base of your spine. At intervals along your spine, these nerves branch out before making their way to every other part of your body, including your limbs and organs.

Your nerves control many of your bodily functions, and they also transmit sensations. In fact, when we feel pain, it’s these nerves that carry chemical pain messages to and from your brain. When this signaling process is disrupted, injured, irritated, or damaged in some way, you can wind up with pain responses that drive many types of acute and chronic pain.

Many pain signals arise from the site of an injury, and once that injury heals, the pain resolves, too. But sometimes, one or more pain signaling pathways gets overstimulated and “stuck” in an active phase. This abnormal pain response could be the mechanism behind pain syndromes, like fibromyalgia and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).

Spinal cord stimulation uses a small implantable device to “break up” abnormal pain signals using tiny electrical impulses. These impulses interrupt the pain signaling process to help keep uncomfortable symptoms under control.

How to know if it’s right for you

Spinal cord stimulation can be an effective treatment for people with certain types of chronic pain that don’t respond to other treatments, like pain medication, physical therapy, and corticosteroid injections. That includes people with:

  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Postherpetic neuralgia (pain from shingles)
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Phantom limb pain following amputation
  • Chronic back or neck pain, including sciatica
  • Inflammation around your spine

Prior to permanently implanting the spinal cord stimulator, you’ll have a “test drive” for about a week to make sure it’s a good choice for helping you manage your symptoms effectively.

The trial run

During your test drive or trial run, thin electrical leads are inserted into the space surrounding your spinal cord. These leads transmit tiny electrical impulses, just like the implanted device. 

Once the leads are inserted, you manage the electrical impulses using a handheld device, giving you control over your pain. The trial run is a great way to test the effectiveness of the device, ensuring treatment provides you with the amount of relief you need.

After your trial run, you assess the level of pain relief provided by the device. If it’s successful, we implant the stimulator near your buttocks or belly area, permanently attaching the leads to your spine. Special diagnostic imaging ensures precise placement of the leads for optimal pain relief. We provide you with instructions on using the device to manage your pain, with recovery taking about 10-14 days.

Learn more about spinal cord stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation provides much-needed pain relief when other therapies have failed. To find out if it’s right for you, request an appointment online or over the phone with the team at Metro Spine PC in Oxon Hill and Clinton, Maryland, or Washington, DC, today.