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What Can I Expect During a Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial Period?

What Can I Expect During a Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial Period?

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) treats chronic neck and back pain. It involves placing temporary leads into your back that are then connected to an external battery. Delivering mild electrical stimulation blocks nerve signals and helps to relieve chronic neck and back pain.

The pain management specialists at Lynx Healthcare work closely with patients to find effective solutions for managing chronic pain. We take care to offer the latest advances in pain management medicine. Spinal cord stimulation helps many patients with chronic pain achieve relief when other treatments have failed. 

After being selected as an appropriate candidate for a spinal stimulator trial, the most common question is, what’s next? 

What is spinal cord stimulation?

Spinal cord stimulation uses low-current electrical stimulation to interrupt nerves sending pain signals to the brain. Patients can control and adjust how much stimulation they receive using a remote control. 

SCS has improved the lives of many people with chronic pain. If we determine you’re a good candidate for SCS, we start with a trial period to see if the electrical stimulation improves your pain.

The trial period is similar to long-term therapy, except instead of implanting the device, the wires that transmit the current are inserted through your skin. An external transmitter sends electrical pulses near your spinal cord. It’s considered effective if you experience at least 50% pain relief. 

What to expect from a SCS trial

To keep you comfortable, we apply local anesthetic before inserting a hollow needle into the epidural space — an area near the spinal canal. The needle has thin wires called leads with electrical contacts attached.

You’ll remain awake during the process, so you can give us feedback on the areas where the stimulation improves your pain. Each electrode affects pain in a different area, so your communication is vital.

The leads are connected to an exterior pulse transmitter you wear on a belt. The wire connecting to the external neurostimulator is taped to your back during the trial to hold it in place. The procedure takes 30-45 minutes. 

We monitor you for a little while after the procedure, then we give you a handheld controller to adjust the amount of stimulation you receive. 

We ask that you track which stimulation settings you use at different times, so when we see you again at the end of the week-long trial period, you can tell us how well SCS relieved your pain. If the pain was not relieved, it’s important to contact us so that we can reprogram the device.

Starting your SCS trial period

After your temporary leads are in place, you can expect to return to the clinic in 2-3 days. When you come back in, the goal is to inspect your lead insertion site and fine-tune your stimulation. 

This visit is required in order to adjust your device's settings if necessary for improved pain control. It’s also necessary to check your leads as swelling may occur and obstruct stimulation. 

After your lead implantation, you will return to the clinic one week later, and we remove the trial leads. You then let us know how much your pain improved during the trial at this point. If you experienced significant pain relief, we discuss going with long-term SCS therapy.

Spinal cord stimulator implantation

After a successful test of the spinal cord stimulator, you’ll need a procedure to permanently implant the device. The generator is implanted beneath the skin, and the electrodes are sutured to prevent them from moving. 

It takes roughly 1-2 hours to perform the operation. Once the local anesthesia has worn off, we make one incision (typically along your lower belly or buttocks) to hold the generator and another incision (along your spine) to place the permanent electrodes.

Once the electrodes and generator are connected and running, we close the incisions.

To learn more about SCS and find out if you’re an appropriate candidate, call or book online to schedule a visit with a Lynx Healthcare provider in Farmington or Albuquerque, New Mexico, today.

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