According to St. Jude Medical, “Chronic pain affects approximately 1.5 billion people worldwide—more than heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. In the U.S., estimated costs include 515 million workdays lost and 40 million doctor visits annually.” For individuals who experience chronic pain in the back, neck, arms, or legs that has lasted at least six months; have neuropathic pain (pain marked by burning, tingling, or numbness); and have found little or no relief from surgery or other treatment options, such as pain medications, nerve blocks, or physical therapy, neurostimulation is a great option.
Neurostimulation (also called spinal cord stimulation or SCS) is a proven therapy physicians have recommended to manage chronic pain and improve quality of life. The system consists of three components that are designed to work together to help manage pain:
- The generator is a small device— similar to a cardiac pacemaker—that sends pulses to the leads. Generators contain a battery and are usually placed in the abdomen or buttock area.
- The leads are thin wires that deliver the pulses from the generator to nerves along the spinal cord. They are placed in an area along the spinal column called the epidural space.
- The programmer is an external, handheld device that lets you adjust how the stimulation feels
Neurostimulation works by interrupting pain signals before they reach the brain. The system is implanted within the body, and it is used to replace pain with a different feeling. Some people describe this feeling as a mellow massaging sensation or, in some cases, only the absence of pain. The process can be summarized as follows:
- Pain signals travel up the spinal cord to the brain.
- The generator sends pulses to a lead.
- The lead delivers these pulses to nerves along the spinal cord.
- The pulses block the pain signals before they reach the brain.
- The painful feeling is replaced with a more pleasant sensation.
Although thousands of people use neurostimulation to help manage their chronic pain, it is not suitable for everyone. If you are attracted to neurostimulation, ask your physician whether or not you are a candidate for this therapy and about its benefits and risks.