Spinal Cord Stimulator Procedure, Recovery, & Restrictions
So why do people delay getting a spinal cord stimulator?
For some, it’s the idea of surgery and the recovery period afterward that gives them pause.
Getting a spinal cord stimulator does involve a procedure, and with any procedure, there are some recovery and restrictions. However, healing time tends to be quicker with this type of procedure compared to other surgical treatments. And for most people, the benefits and pain relief they get from HFX make the process well worth it.
There are two steps to getting a spinal cord stimulator: a trial and an implant. Knowing what to expect can help make sure both your trial and implant are successful. Here’s what you need to know about spinal cord stimulator recovery and spinal cord stimulator restrictions, along with answers to frequently asked questions.
The spinal cord stimulator trial procedure: what’s involved?
What most people like about spinal cord stimulation is unlike other treatment options or surgery for chronic pain, with a spinal cord stimulator you try a temporary system first to see if it helps relieve your pain before you decide to move forward with the implant. The trial system is external and delivers the same therapy as the implanted device.
So, what happens during a spinal cord stimulator trial? It starts with a quick, simple, and outpatient procedure usually performed in your doctor’s office.
Your doctor will numb the area and you’ll be sedated sort of like a twilight. Your doctor will place two leads that deliver the therapy in your back. Placing the leads doesn’t require any incisions and is very similar to an epidural injection.
The leads are connected to a temporary device that’s taped to your back and is easily covered by your clothes. The procedure takes about an hour, and you’ll go home the same day. You should bring someone with you to drive you home.
The trial typically lasts about 5 to 7 days. You’re then encouraged to go about your normal daily activities to “test drive” the spinal cord stimulator and evaluate your pain relief and improvement. Get answers to the top questions asked about a spinal cord stimulator trial.
What to expect: spinal cord stimulator trial recovery & restrictions
The trial is an opportunity to see if a spinal cord stimulator relieves your pain and helps meet your pain management goals. Generally, your doctor will encourage you to maintain your daily routine and even try activities you usually can’t do or have stopped doing because of your pain like walking, sitting, standing, shopping, etc.
Most people can continue to go about their daily routine with only a few minor restrictions; however, because the temporary system has an external part, there are a few precautions you may need to take.
Your doctor will provide specific instructions at the time of your trial, but generally, you should avoid:
- Activities with twisting, bending or lifting your arms above your shoulders
- Lifting heavy objects
- Getting your trial device wet (don’t swim or shower)
The most important thing is to keep the incision site clean and dry and to not do any activities that will move your leads.
Some people may have soreness or swelling at the site once the local anesthesia wears off, however, this is temporary and after about 48 hours most people don’t experience any discomfort during the rest of the trial.
If you get at least 50% pain relief during your trial, then you’ll have the option to move forward with the implant. 9 out of 10 people who try HFX, stay with it1.
Looking for more information? Learn more about what to expect.
How long is it between the trial and implant?
The length of time between your trial and implant will depend on your doctor’s guidance. However, most people usually get the implant about a month after their trial. This allows time for healing and your insurance authorization to go through. Learn more about what to expect.
The spinal cord stimulator implant procedure: what’s involved?
If you have a successful trial and decide to move forward, your doctor will schedule your implant procedure. Implanting a spinal cord stimulator is minimally invasive, not a major surgery, and is often an outpatient procedure, which means you’ll likely go home the same day again.
The procedure involves two parts:
1. placing a small device in your lower back, buttocks, or hip area – your doctor will help decide what location will be most comfortable for you
2. just like the trial, your doctor will place the leads again and this time connect the leads to your internal device
The implant procedure typically takes up to two hours and is performed with anesthesia or sedation to make it as comfortable as possible for you, so you will need someone to drive you home. If necessary, the implant procedure is reversible. Learn more about what to expect.
It’s also possible your doctor may recommend an alternative approach using a paddle lead, which requires a slightly different procedure. It may be recommended for you to have a paddle lead if you have a lot of scar tissue or any anatomical barriers.
Here’s a short video that explains how spinal cord stimulation works:
What to expect: spinal cord stimulator implant recovery & restrictions
Your spinal cord stimulator recovery period after the implant procedure will be a little longer than your trial recovery. As with any procedure, your body will need time to rest and heal.
Recovery time varies from person to person but typically takes around 6-8 weeks for most people. At the time of your procedure, your doctor will provide your specific recovery instructions and it’s important to follow them closely.
Spinal cord stimulator restrictions have three goals:
1. to protect your safety
2. to protect your device
3. to limit activities that are more likely to cause the leads to move
Since spinal cord stimulation provides significant pain relief for many, a lot of people are excited to return to an active lifestyle as soon as possible. Luckily, the incision made for this procedure is small and minimally invasive. However, you should expect to engage only in light activity while you recover and avoid:
- Lifting items that weigh more than 5 pounds
- Twisting, bending, or climbing
- Stretching or any movement that involves reaching over your head
- Moving or pulling leads
You should be careful to keep your incision site clean and dry until it has healed. Also, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of infection. Always talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns during your spinal cord stimulator recovery. Learn more about what to expect.
Depending on which spinal cord stimulator you choose, there are very few restrictions after the normal recovery time window. Unlike traditional spinal cord stimulators, HFX can be used while driving and sleeping. Once you get the green light from your doctor, you can do things like swim, travel, and return to the activities you love.
More than 80,000 people worldwide have found long-term pain relief with the Nevro HFX spinal cord stimulator. Read their reviews and testimonials.
Returning to work
How soon you can return to work depends on the type of job you have and your specific pain condition.
Generally, your doctor will have some limitations on what you can and can’t do on the job for a certain period, but this will depend on your specific situation. While each person is different, most people can go back to work after about 6-8 weeks.
Tips to help your body heal
Everyone heals differently. There are ways to help your body heal faster and better, though, including:
- Get plenty of sleep and rest
- Be consistent with your medication
- Limit bending, twisting, and lifting during your recovery window
- Don’t remove your bandages until your doctor gives you the go-ahead
- Keep your follow-up appointments
- Ask your care team if you have concerns or questions
Your doctor will schedule follow-up appointments to check your recovery progress and make your stimulator is working properly. It’s important you attend these appointments.
The most important thing you can do during your spinal cord stimulator recovery is to rest while your body heals. It can be challenging to limit your activity, especially if you’re finally experiencing relief from years of pain. But following the spinal cord stimulator restrictions during your recovery period will help keep your device components in place and make sure you have the best possible pain relief.
Find out if spinal cord stimulation is right for you
Spinal cord stimulation can be a very effective treatment option if most of your pain is chronic and nerve related.
To find out if spinal cord stimulation is right for you, the first step is to take a short assessment today. At the end, you can request a call from an HFX Coach who will answer any questions you have and help you find an HFX-trained doctor in your area.
- Kapural L., et al. Novel 10-kHz High-frequency Therapy Superior to Traditional Low-frequency Spinal Cord Stimulation for the Treatment of Chronic Back and Leg Pain. Anesthesiology, 123(4)
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