5 Things to Know About Spinal Cord Stimulation for Back Pain

Treating back pain is not an exact science. Sometimes doctors recommend physical therapy and prescription painkillers. Other times, surgery is the best way to approach the issue. Even spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is on the table. The hardest part is finding a treatment that works over long periods of time.

SCS is not a new treatment for back pain. However, not a lot of people know about it because it doesn’t get a lot of attention. It is also not the right treatment for every back pain patient. But when doctors believe it’s appropriate, patients often feel it is worth a try. Whether or not it works is up to how the individual responds.

If you have considered SCS as a treatment for your back pain, here are five things to know about it before you proceed:

1. It’s Usually Offered on a Trial Basis

SCS involves the implantation of an electrical device in the back. Electrodes connect the device to the spine. The device then delivers electrical charges that stimulate nerves and block pain signals.

Although the implantation procedure is considered minimally invasive, it is still surgery, nonetheless. Therefore, pain medicine doctors usually offer SCS on a trial basis. That is the case at Lone Star Pain Medicine in Weatherford, TX. A temporary device is worn outside the body until it is determined that the treatment works. If it does, the patient can proceed to implantation.

2. Pain Relief Varies

As is the case with almost all back pain treatments, relief varies from one patient to the next. Some patients report only partial relief while others report full relief. There are cases in which SCS seems to work for a while but then stops. There really is no way to accurately predict how effective the treatment will be in a particular case.

3. Relief Can Be Long Term

When SCS does successfully relieve pain, the relief can be experienced over the long term. How long? It could be years in some cases. For someone whose chronic back pain is nearly debilitating, even the hope of long-term relief makes it worth trying.

Long term relief could mitigate the need for pain medication. It could ultimately help a patient return to a normal life; the life experienced before chronic back pain became a problem.

4. It Is Rarely the First Choice

SCS is rarely the first choice when a pain doctor is recommending treatment for back pain. In fact, SCS tends to be way down on the list. It is recommended after more traditional treatments have failed to provide adequate pain relief. SCS is not necessarily a last resort treatment, but pain doctors like to try other treatments first.

5. There Are Risks Involved

No medical treatment is without its risks, SCS included. The most common risk with SCS is infection at the incision site. Two additional risks include persistent pain at the implantation site and pain migration to another part of the back.

Patients should also understand that follow-up procedures may be necessary to reposition the electrodes or change device batteries. Every subsequent procedure comes with the same risks of infection and implantation site pain.

One of Many Options

Pain doctors have many options when recommending treatments for back pain. SCS is just one of them. SCS is something to look into if you have persistent back pain that has not responded to traditional treatments. If your GP is unable to advise you about SCS, consider seeing a pain medicine specialist. Pain medicine doctors have access to a variety of alternative treatments alongside SCS.

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