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Top 5 Ways to Tell if Spinal Cord Stimulation is Right For You

Pain is actually a good thing. It alerts your body when you’re injured and lets you know you need to protect that area from further harm. 

But what happens when the injury is gone but the pain persists? That’s called chronic pain and it plagues more than 20% of Americans. If you’re one of them, you may have attempted to decrease your symptoms through lifestyle changes, medications, physical therapy, alternative approaches, and even surgery. But if none of those have worked, it may be time to consider something different.

Dr. Anh Ngo and Dr. Manuel Sanchez at Pain Specialty Group both approach your pain from a multidisciplinary perspective and develops your treatment plan based on your unique symptoms. When nonsurgical treatments haven’t helped or if you’ve had an unsuccessful surgical experience, spinal cord stimulation may be the relief you’ve been looking for. 

What is spinal cord stimulation?

When you feel pain, it’s actually a good thing. Its presence protects you from further injury and its absence lets you know when you’re okay. 

But chronic pain continues long after your injury heals and your nerves keep sending pain messages to your brain. Spinal cord stimulation hijacks your nervous system and replaces the impulses sent to your brain with a different message. 

Our team surgically implants a flat electrode into the epidural space between your vertebrae and your spinal cord. Another device, a generator, is placed nearby in your buttocks or abdomen. The generator runs on a battery and is operated by an external remote that you control. When you feel pain, you can activate the device and stop the sensation.

So, are you a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation?

1. Chronic pain 

The first prerequisite for spinal cord stimulation is the level and longevity of your pain. Chronic pain that’s beleaguered you for six months or more is a good indication that spinal cord stimulation might be a viable option. 

Conservative treatment options are always best at the beginning of your pain management journey, but if you’ve progressed through them with no relief, spinal cord stimulation is a logical next step. Here are just a few of the conditions spinal cord stimulation can address:

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives you a good picture of the scope of chronic pain culprits that spinal cord stimulation can tackle.

2. Failed back surgery syndrome

If you’ve undergone back surgery and still have persistent pain, you’re one of the 20%-40% of patients who suffer from failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS). That doesn’t necessarily mean that your surgeon did something wrong. It’s usually caused by a buildup of scar tissue and recurring muscle spasms in the area. Spinal cord stimulation has proven highly effective for treating FBSS.

3. Neuropathy

If you have damaged or dysfunctional nerves, you have neuropathy. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling sensations to outright pain. Neuropathy can occur anywhere in your body and can be caused by a variety of reasons, including alcoholism, stress, trauma, infection, illness, chemotherapy, or poor nutrition. Neuropathy stands a good chance of responding to spinal cord stimulation. 

4. Good mental health

Pain does a number on your body and your brain. Often, people who suffer from chronic pain also experience clinical depression and anxiety. Both of these mental health conditions could hinder your ability to fully understand the purpose of spinal cord stimulation, as well as its risks. 

For some, it may also interfere with the ability to operate the device and manage symptoms. For this reason, spinal cord stimulation candidates are prescreened for any mental or intellectual challenges that would make the treatment less effective. 

5. Successful test run

Before you commit to spinal cord stimulation, Dr. Ngo gives you a trial run to make sure it works for you. He places an electrode into your epidural space, just as in the final procedure, but this time the generator is left outside your body. He puts it in a belt you wear around your waist for about a week while you try it out. 

This way, you only have one small incision. If the device reduces your pain by 50% or more, that’s considered a success and you can move forward with the full procedure. 

Big-picture treatment

If Dr. Ngo or Dr. Sanchez determines you’re a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation, they may also add treatments such as medication, platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy, physical therapy, manual manipulations, or other methods of pain management to enhance your results. 

If you’re at your wit’s end trying to find relief from your chronic pain, call us today or book an appointment online to find out if spinal cord stimulation is right for you. 

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