In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 39% of American adults suffered from some level of back pain. While it’s a temporary condition for many, about 16 million of them have chronic back pain that’s severe enough to limit regular daily activities.
When back pain becomes chronic, it becomes more difficult to treat. Drug-based pain management carries the risk of long-term side effects, while neuropathic pain may not respond predictably to conservative treatments that work for acute lower back pain episodes.
Abhi Sharma MD at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center specializes in the treatment of all back pain, in addition to spinal cord stimulator trials and implants. In certain cases, we may recommend spinal cord stimulation as a way to reduce or eliminate the need for medication or to prevent the short-term need for back surgery. Is it a good choice for your chronic lower back pain? Here’s what you need to know.
Treating lower back pain
When you have back pain that doesn’t resolve on its own or with treatment in 12 weeks or less, it’s now classed as chronic. About one in five patients with acute lower back pain pass this threshold, with persistent symptoms present one year later.
Treatment follows a protocol of increasing intensity, starting with the most conservative therapies and becoming more aggressive until a patient finds relief. When non-surgical solutions fail to deliver satisfactory results, spinal cord stimulation becomes an option before our neurosurgeons consider spine surgery.
How spinal cord stimulators work
Your body’s nerve systems work by transmitting tiny electrical charges. This is the case regardless of whether a nerve is sensory, motor, or autonomic. In the case of chronic lower back pain, sensory nerves report pain to the brain. It might be due to prolonged irritation or compression of nerve tissue, but sometimes there is no detectable injury or reason why the pain continues. When the pain significantly interferes with your quality of life, spinal cord stimulation may be the answer.
A spinal cord stimulator system is similar to a heart pacemaker, though instead of monitoring motor nerves that fire heart muscles, spinal cord stimulators scramble the signals that the brain interprets as pain. Instead, you might feel a tingling effect called paresthesia. Newer devices can also eliminate this sensation.
Most stimulator systems have three main components: an implanted pulse generator, probes leading to the target area in the spine, and an external remote control. Individual features vary between stimulator brands, including systems with rechargeable batteries.
A week-long trial period using a temporary system confirms that you’ll benefit from a spinal cord stimulator before implanting the permanent device. Many patients find that the stimulator reduces or eliminates the need for pain medication to control their condition.
Find out if you’re a candidate for a spinal cord stimulator by consulting with us at Atlas Neurosurgery and Spine Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. You can book an appointment by phone or online, so take the next step and schedule your visit now.