Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Right for Me?
When you haven’t found relief with other chronic pain treatment options like pain medication, surgery, or injections, it could be time to start researching getting a spinal cord stimulator to manage your pain.
You probably have a lot of questions about spinal cord stimulators – like “Is a spinal cord stimulator right for me?” and “Will a spinal cord stimulator help relieve my pain?” These aren’t only good questions; they’re important ones and we’re going to help you answer them.
The type of pain spinal cord stimulation works best for
We’ll first need to go into the type of pain spinal cord stimulation best relieves.
Acute vs. chronic pain
Pain can either be acute or chronic.
How do you tell the difference between acute and chronic back pain?
You can tell by the timeframe of your pain.
Acute pain: develops over a short period of time, lasts less than six months, and heals with time. Acute pain tends to be sharp. It happens suddenly and is often a result of an injury like a broken bone, burn, cut, or surgery or illness – like strep throat or appendicitis.
Chronic pain: lasts longer than 6 months, is constant, and continues even after treatment. It’s persistent, debilitating, and gets in the way of everyday life. Illness, past injuries, or damage to nerves can cause chronic pain. Many times, chronic pain continues even after an injury has fully healed. For some people, chronic pain appears without any explanation at all.
How everyone experiences pain is unique and chronic pain can be experienced on different levels of severity.
Spinal cord stimulation treats chronic pain that is moderate to severe. Moderate to severe pain can disrupt your sleep, interfere with everyday life, cause you to miss work or social gatherings, make it difficult to sit, stand, or walk, etc.
Mechanical vs. nerve pain
Feeling pain is a normal protective function. Sensory receptors throughout our body detect pain and send signals to our brain to process and react. There are two main types of chronic pain – mechanical and nerve pain.
Mechanical pain: when bones, ligaments, tendons, or muscles are damaged or strained from an injury or overuse. Mechanical pain can also develop from habits, such as poor posture and incorrect bending and lifting motions. It usually feels tender, throbbing, or stiff.
Mechanical pain usually increases or decreases depending on if you put weight on it or the position you’re in. For example, if your knee hurts when you walk but feels better when you sit down or if your back feels better once you lie down – that’s most likely mechanical pain.
Treatment for mechanical pain is best accomplished by treating the source.
Nerve pain: Sometimes nerves are damaged by disease, trauma, and even medications. This can lead to ongoing pain sensations – even when there isn’t an injury or any obvious source of pain. This is called nerve pain. It often feels like continuous burning, shooting, shock-like and often is associated with abnormal sensations like tingling, numbness, pins-and-needles.
Spinal cord stimulation is most effective for difficult to treat nerve-related chronic pain.
How do you tell the difference between nerve and mechanical back pain?
A complete evaluation with a pain management physician will help you understand what kind of pain you’re experiencing.
How we experience pain is unique and many people have a mix of both types. If most of your pain is chronic and nerve-related, spinal cord stimulation could be a very effective treatment option for you.
Who is a good candidate for a spinal cord stimulator?
To determine if you’re a candidate for spinal cord stimulation, your physician will look at:
- How long you’ve had pain
- How much your pain impacts your day-to-day life
- The severity of your pain
- Your pain characteristics
- Previous treatment options you’ve tried and didn’t find relief
- What previous surgeries or procedures you’ve had
You could be a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation if:
- You have nerve-related pain
- Your pain is constant and chronic
- Your pain is in your back, trunk, or limbs
- You still have pain even after trying other treatment options like surgery, pain medications, or injections
Specific conditions that are often treated well with spinal cord stimulation include painful diabetic neuropathy, pain after back surgery (“Failed Back Surgery Syndrome”), Sciatica, and nerve pain in your arms, legs, feet, hands, back, and buttock.
Who is not a good candidate for a spinal cord stimulator?
You may not be the best candidate for spinal cord stimulation if:
- Most of your pain is acute
- Most of your pain is mechanical
Specific pain types and conditions that aren’t as effectively treated with spinal cord stimulation include bone pain, tissue pain, muscle pain, cancer pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia.
How does spinal cord stimulation relieve my pain?
Spinal cord stimulation works best for chronic nerve pain and here’s why- we know chronic nerve pain is caused by damaged nerves that are overproducing and sending pain signals through your spinal cord to your brain.
Well, spinal cord stimulation works by safely blocking and reducing pain signals. When your pain signals are reduced, you experience less pain.
I’ve tried everything else, why should I try a spinal cord stimulator?
Spinal cord stimulation is a well-established approach to managing chronic pain and there are many unique benefits:
- It’s proven to be very successful for many people who have tried other treatment options
- It’s a drug-free option and it’s not addictive
- It has fewer side effects than pain medication and it doesn’t cloud your thoughts, cause drowsiness or constipation
- It’s minimally invasive and doesn’t require a major surgery
- You can try it before you decide to make sure you experience relief
While traditional spinal cord stimulators have been used to manage pain for over 50 years, a study came out in 2015 that compared the pain relief experienced by people with traditional SCS and people with a newer spinal cord stimulator, HFX™.
The study found that many more people experienced significantly better and longer-lasting pain relief from chronic back and leg pain with HFX than other spinal cord stimulation systems1,2. Nearly 80% of people experienced at least 50% pain relief with HFX compared to only 49% of people with traditional SCS.
Hear how Jerry found relief with HFX:
HFX is covered by all major commercial insurance plans, Medicaid, Medicare, Tricare, and workers comp in all states except Washington. Find more information about costs and insurance.
Find out if HFX spinal cord stimulation is right for you
Spinal cord stimulation could be a very effective treatment option for you if most of your pain is chronic and nerve-related.
If you’re not sure if spinal cord stimulation will relieve the pain you’re experiencing, you can start by taking a short questionnaire to see if your condition is similar to those getting relief with HFX.
You can also locate a pain management provider experienced with HFX in your area who can provide a consultation and complete evaluation.
- Spinal cord stimulation is most effective for chronic nerve pain
- Spinal cord stimulation doesn’t work best for acute and mechanical pain
- Spinal cord stimulation is proven to be very successful for many people who have tried other treatment options like pain medications, surgery, and injections
- HFX spinal cord stimulation has the highest demonstrated success rate for relieving back and leg pain compared to other spinal cord stimulation options 1,2
- Kapural L, et al. Comparison of 10-kHz High-Frequency and Traditional Low-Frequency Spinal Cord Stimulation for the Treatment of Chronic Back and Leg Pain: 24-month Results from a Multicenter, Randomized, Controlled Pivotal Trial. Neurosurgery. Published 09 2016
- Stauss, T, et al. A multicenter real-world review of 10 kHz SCS outcomes for treatment of chronic trunk and/or limb pain. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. Jan. 22, 2019. *Mean time from implant to last visit is nine months.
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Unfortunately, chronic pain is complex and it is unclear if you are an appropriate candidate for HFX spinal cord stimulation at this time. Only a physician can recommend a specific treatment, we suggest you continue this discussion with your physician.
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