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How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial Work?

How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial Work?

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an innovative, state-of-the-art therapy for chronic pain affecting your back, arms, or legs. The therapy relies on a small, implantable device that emits tiny bursts of electricity to interrupt pain signals as they travel from the affected part of your body to your brain.

While it’s effective for many types of long-term chronic pain, spinal cord stimulation is reserved for people who don’t respond to more conservative treatments and whose pain persists despite ongoing therapy. Prior to having the device permanently implanted, patients undergo a trial with the device to make sure it's effective in bringing relief.

Zaid Malik, MD, and the team at Superior Pain Relief offer spinal cord stimulation therapy to patients in Spring, Houston, Baytown, Willis, and The Woodlands, Texas. In this post, learn how a spinal cord stimulation trial works to help you determine if this treatment option is right for you.

Spinal cord stimulation: The trial run

If you take medication for pain and it doesn’t offer relief, your doctor can adjust your dose or try another type of therapy. With an implanted device, however, “undoing” the therapy is more complicated. 

Undergoing a trial with SCS lets you experience how the device works for you so you can determine whether it will provide you with the level of relief you’re looking for — before your doctor permanently implants the device.

During this test phase, Dr. Malik does insert the wire leads into the space surrounding your spine (the epidural space). To do so, he uses a local anesthetic and a special needle or a tiny incision.

The other ends of the leads are attached to a small stimulator device, which you wear externally, usually on a belt around your waist. During your trial run of about a week or two, you use the device to trigger tiny electrical bursts whenever you feel pain, and you monitor the therapy’s effectiveness in addressing your symptoms.

The electrical impulses block pain signals as they travel to and from the brain. At the end of the trial, you and Dr. Malik review your results to determine if permanent implantation of the stimulator is a good choice.

Permanent implantation

If you’re a good candidate for SCS, Dr. Malik implants the device under your skin via a small incision, typically near your buttocks or abdomen. Your doctor inserts permanent leads into the epidural space, as before. You receive sedation or general anesthesia during implantation of the permanent stimulator device to keep you comfortable throughout.

Dr. Malik adjusts the pulses using a small wireless programming device. Afterward, you can use this remote to adjust the stimulation level as well as to turn the device on and off.

Recovery following the SCS implantation procedure is quick, with complete recovery taking about 7-10 days. You’ll probably have some discomfort and minor swelling around the incision sites initially, but these effects subside as healing progresses. Dr. Malik provides recovery instructions, including directions on how to care for the incision sites.

Finding relief for chronic pain

Spinal cord stimulation is one option Dr. Malik and his team use to help patients manage chronic pain. To learn more about SCS and other pain management options, request an appointment today by calling the Superior Pain Relief team at the location nearest you.

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