A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a medical device that’s used to deliver a low current of electricity to the spinal cord (the nerve bundle inside the spine), interrupting nerve signals that transmit pain so the sensation of pain is reduced or eliminated. The device comprises two parts: an electrical lead implanted near the spine and a pulse generator implanted in the belly or buttock. Once in place, the SCS can be “switched” on and off to provide ongoing pain management. When turned on, the current causes mild tingling sensations at the site of the pain.
Spinal cord stimulation is used in patients with chronic pain, helping them feel more comfortable and decrease their reliance on pain medications. It’s especially effective in patients with long-term pain in the legs, arms or back where other types of treatment like physical therapy have not been effective in providing relief.
Prior to implant placement, sedation will be administered to help the patient relax throughout the procedure. The surgical sites in the back and belly or buttocks will be thoroughly cleansed. Usually, the electrical leads are placed first using a small incision in the back to expose a portion of the spine. A “real-time” X-ray device called a fluoroscope will be used to guide placement of the leads, which will be located in the epidural space adjacent to the spinal cord. Once the leads are in place, small sutures will be used to secure them. Next, the leads will be tested to ensure they’re providing adequate relief from pain. Once the leads are properly positioned, a thin wire will be passed just under the skin connecting the leads to the location where the pulse generator will be placed. An incision will be made into the skin to create a “pocket” for the generator, and the lead wires will be attached. Finally, the incisions will be closed, and a protective bandage will be applied. Typical procedures take about three to four hours to perform, and most patients can be discharged the same day.
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