The Chronic Pain Miracle of Spinal Cord Stimulation
Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is what some might call a wave of the future. A treatment option for those who suffer with chronic back pain, this specialized type of injection therapy might be a real solution to pain without risk of opiate addiction and other long-term side effects.
Sound too good to be true? Read through the facts before making a judgement call, then decide for yourself. SCS might be the treatment that you have been waiting for.
What is SCS and how does it work?
SCS has actually been around for a long time. First implemented in 1967, it was not approved by the FDA until 1989 after discovering its ability to relieve pain in areas of the body such as the arms, legs, and trunk. As a treatment option at pain management facilities, SCS offers a non-medicinal alternative that really works. Its recent surge in popularity is due to this fascinating aspect.
SCS sends pulses of electricity through the spinal cord. Each pulse delivers a message to the nerves to stop sending pain signals to the brain. These pulses are delivered via small electrodes or wires situated along the spinal cord. The electrodes in turn are connected to a battery-powered generator implanted strategically under the skin. Usually, this implanted generator also creates a buzzing or tingling sensation that removes pain but is always present. The tingling or buzzing is called paresthesia, and medical companies who develop SCS therapies have been working on ways to eliminate this side effect. However, for those who live in extreme pain, paresthesia is a welcome alternative to the pain.
What types of pain does it treat?
You know by now that SCS treats chronic pain, mainly pain in the back and legs. Remember that chronic pain is defined as any pain that lingers in the body beyond three months, or after the body’s natural healing time frame for most acute injuries.
Chronic pain can be caused by a variety of things, from old injuries to autoimmune diseases to spinal misalignment. Since SCS is centered on the spine, the pain signals it reaches are local to any nerve running directly through the spine, such as the spinal cord or sciatic nerve. That is why SCS is most effective for chronic back or leg pain, like spinal stenosis.
However, SCS can treat a lot of other conditions, and the list is growing. You might find relief for pain related to failed back surgery, scarring along spinal nerves, chronic neck pain, chronic back pain, complex regional pain syndrome, refractory angina, nerve death caused by peripheral neuropathy, and more.
How is SCS delivered?
We’ve already discussed how SCS delivers electrical pulses through a battery powered generator. But you might be interested to know what it looks like. A company called Nuvectra has designed a new SCS system that comes in a small silver square. On top of the thin metal square sits a plastic piece where the wires, called leads, are connected to the battery. Nuvectra calls their device Algovita.
An SCS system is installed along your spine. The battery pack itself is implanted under your skin near the base of the spine. The leads (thin wires) are placed along your spinal cord in strategic locations so that the electrical impulses can reach the nerves that keep sending pain signals. The electrical stimulation overrides the pain signals, leaving you with the slight buzzing or tingling of paresthesia instead of pain.
The Benefits of SCS
As a pain management technique, SCS is far superior to medications. There are other non-medication options at pain management clinics of course, including lifestyle changes, physical therapy, chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, and even counseling. For many chronic pain sufferers, however, these techniques are not enough. Many feel they need medication to live a normal life, but medications come at a high cost.
Although some medications are certainly worth it, some are not. For example, opiate pain killers are highly addictive. If patients become reliant on these pills, they can suffer side effects like slowed breathing, drowsiness, withdrawal symptoms, tolerance, sleep disorders, increased risk of bone fracture, and even tooth decay. In fact, there is something of an opioid crisis on our hands in the US, and the surgeon general has even said that opioids are not a solution for chronic pain.
SCS is a treatment option that is as effective as pain killers, but without affecting the rest of your body.
Is SCS right for you?
There are many non-medicinal alternatives to chronic pain management, but none are quite as effective as SCS. And since doctors are continuing to work on more efficient delivery methods, SCS is fast becoming a better solution. Is SCS right for you? If you have chronic pain in your neck, back, or legs, ask your doctor or pain management specialist if you can try SCS therapy.