Spinal Cord Stimulation Therapy in New York

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is non-medicinal way to treat chronic pain. Similar to pacemaker technology, SCS uses electrical signals rather than traditional medication to treat pain. It works by delivering electrical pulses to the spinal cord to mask or interrupt the transmission of abnormal pain signals to the brain. The pulses are sent by small electrodes placed near the spinal cord that connect to a compact, battery-powered pulse generator, which is implanted under the skin.

This type of neurostimulation is a potential option for patients with chronic pain who continue to suffer despite having had medications, physical therapy, injections, and even surgery. SCS targets areas of pain, and typically creates a more pleasant tingling feeling (called paresthesia) in those areas. Recent SCS devices reduce or eliminate paresthesia, and simply provide pain relief with little or none of the other sensations.

What kinds of conditions does spinal cord stimulation treat?

In more than half the patients who try the therapy, SCS effectively relieves neuropathic pain (pain arising from nerve damage due to injury or illness). Typical cases include:

  • pain after nerve root injury in spinal disorders (commonly known as failed back surgery syndrome, or FBSS)
  • post-amputation pain
  • other traumatic neuropathies
  • complex regional pain syndrome
  • metabolic and viral neuropathies

Among its other medical applications, SCS has also been used in patients with chronic critical limb ischemia, angina pectoris, chronic pancreatitis, chronic painful bladder syndrome, and chronic abdominal pain. In addition, there has been promising research into epidural spinal cord stimulation reversing partial spinal cord injury.

Patients who are considered good candidates for spinal cord stimulation can try out the treatment on a temporary basis first before having the generator implanted. After identifying the best locations to apply the electrical impulses, the pain specialist uses x-ray guidance to thread the leads (wires) to the target areas. The leads are connected to a generator that is outside the patient’s body, operated with a remote control.

The external generator is then programmed to reach the proper level of relief, and over the next few days or weeks the patient can adjust the device as needed. If the stimulator is effective at relieving pain and improving quality of life, the patient may choose to have the generator implanted (usually in a “pocket” under the skin of the buttock) for permanent pain management. The patient continues to manage the level of stimulation using the remote control. The procedure is considered permanent, but it is reversible: The implanted stimulator can be turned off or surgically removed at any time.

Both procedures, to implant the leads for the trial and to implant the generator, are often done as outpatient procedures or with very brief hospital stays. Complete recovery from the surgical procedure can be from four to six weeks.

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