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Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery: Everything You Should Know

If you are suffering from chronic pain in the lower back or legs, then your doctor may recommend spinal cord stimulation (SCS) or neurostimulation. This is an advanced pain-relief procedure that is often recommended for an increasing number of medical conditions such as complex regional pain syndrome, neuropathy, cervical and lumbar radiculitis.

Neurosurgeon about to perform spinal cord stimulation surgery in Florida

If you have been given this option, then you probably have some questions. So we’ve created this post in order to share with you everything you need to know about spinal cord stimulation surgery.

What Happens During This Interventional Procedure?

During this interventional procedure, a neurosurgeon will be implanting the spinal cord stimulator in the patient’s back. While the technology fueling this incredible form of pain-relief is always evolving, this procedure is quite straightforward.

Here’s what will happen:

  • Step 1) The injection site is identified and local anesthesia is applied to the area. The next step of the procedure does not begin until after the patient has been sedated.
  • Step 2) The neurosurgeon then inserts a hollow needle into the epidural space (this is the area surrounding the spinal canal. A fluoroscopy (form of X-ray) must be taken beforehand in order to guide the insertion of the needle. Thin, insulated wires known as leads are fed through the needle. Each lead has small electrical contacts attached to it.
    • Please note the surgeon may need to make a small incision in order to insert the needle properly.
    • Also, surgeons may need to remove a small section of bone (part of the lamina) that covers the spinal cord in order to properly place the leads.
  • Step 3) The neurosurgeon implants the leads. If the patient underwent a trial period with the spinal cord stimulator, then this step will not be necessary.
  • Step 4) The patient is then woken up in order to ensure that the electrical contacts have been placed properly. This step can’t be completed unless the patient is conscious.
  • Step 5) If the electrodes have been placed to account for all painful areas, then the leads will be fixed in place and the patient is sedated once again.
  • Step 6) The surgeon makes a small incision in order to place the generator.
  • Step 7) Once the incision has been made, they are able to implant the generator under the patient’s skin. Optimal placements include the upper chest, upper buttocks or in the abdomen. Comfort plays a large role in where this generator will be placed, so normally surgeons will ask patients about their preferences beforehand.
  • Step 8) The surgeon then runs wires from the leads to the generator.
  • Step 9) Lastly, the surgeon closes up any incisions and the patient officially begins their recovery.

How Long Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery Take?

This is a great question and the short answer is that it depends on whether you’re talking about the trial procedure or if you’re getting a long-term device implanted. It’s not uncommon for patients to begin with a trial run before getting the long term spinal cord stimulator.

The procedure to get a temporary lead placed takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes to complete. This trial is run in order to see if this form of spinal stimulation will actually produce positive results for a patient. The procedure is fairly simple and can be performed in a sterile office setting. The long-term spinal cord stimulation surgery will take around 2 hours to complete.

What Are the Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery?

If you have been living with long-term chronic pain, then you may want to consider this procedure for several reasons.

  • The spinal cord stimulator is adjustable – Patients are given a handheld controller that they can use to adjust the level of electrical impulses being delivered. On good days when your pain is low, you can easily turn things down, or the opposite if it’s been particularly rough day.
  • Patients with a stimulator are less dependent on painkillers – Many over-the-counter pain medications can be highly addictive and are only meant as a short term solution. For patients with chronic pain, spinal cord stimulation surgery offers a new method of pain relief that is much better for their long term health.
  • The stimulator can be removed – If a patient isn’t seeing positive results from spinal cord stimulation, the stimulator can be removed without complication.
  • Minimal side effects – This procedure and device fortunately cause very little side effects. Many don’t experience any issues after the device has been implanted.

How Much Does Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery Cost?

As with many interventional procedures and pain-relief therapies, the total cost for a patient can vary depending on a variety of factors. These include the overall health of the patient, the location where the procedure is being performed, the type of spinal cord stimulator being implanted and the patient’s specific needs during their recovery after the procedure is performed.

There’s also one other important factor when it comes to cost and that is the patient’s health insurance. Companies like TriCare and Medicare typically will cover this procedure for qualified patients. Also some doctors may offer financial support plans.

Total cost for spinal cord stimulation is typically around $80,000 with out-of-pocket costs ranging from $15,000 to $50,000 for uninsured patients who had to purchase the spinal cord stimulator.

Are There Complications Associated with Spinal Cord Stimulation Surgery?

Unfortunately, like with any type of surgical procedure, there are certain risks associated with spinal cord stimulation surgery. Here are some of the risks that are present with this type of procedure:

  • Spinal fluid leakage
  • Increased pain
  • Infection
  • Stimulation does not affect the correct area
  • Interruptions in stimulation or a total stop
  • Overstimulation
  • Device malfunctions
  • Leads may move or suffer damage
  • Cross device interaction

What Precautions Can You Take To Prevent These Complications

Here are some recommendations we have in order to minimize the risks any patient may face following this procedure:

  • Be aware that your spinal cord stimulator may set off metal detectors. Fortunately, your doctor can provide you with a special ID certifying your device. Just make sure you keep this on your person at all times in order to avoid any potential security complications.
  • Don’t drive or operate any heavy equipment when your device is activated.
  • If you are in a store with an anti-theft device, please note that this can temporarily increase stimulation from your device if it is activated as you pass through. We recommend turning it off before walking through any of these areas.
  • Your spinal cord stimulator’s controller has a magnet that can damage or impact certain items that have magnetic strips. Watches, clocks, credit cards or computer discs can all be impaired, so don’t store the controller near items like this.
  • Please be aware that other medical devices such as MRIs, defibrillators, ultrasounds and cardiac pacemakers can have adverse effects on your spinal cord stimulator.

Conclusion

We can’t guarantee that spinal cord stimulation surgery will produce the results you are seeking for your chronic pain symptoms. However, most of our patients have reported a significant decrease in their pain symptoms after the stimulator was implanted. This type of difference can make a significant difference in a patient’s overall quality of life. If you are considering spinal cord stimulation surgery, we hope that this post answered any questions you had.

If you would like to schedule a consultation with one of our neurosurgeons in Florida, please fill out our online form.

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