Who Should Consider a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Who Should Consider a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

May 16, 2023
Anyone with chronic pain should consider a spinal cord stimulator, but not everyone will qualify. If you’re interested in this advanced treatment, you’ll go through a screening process, then try the spinal cord stimulator to be sure it works for you.

Spinal cord stimulators are one of the most effective and long-lasting treatments available for chronic pain. However, each person is unique, and the device doesn’t produce optimal results for everyone.

That’s why it’s so important to screen each person and determine if they’re likely to get the pain relief they need from spinal cord stimulation.

As the largest interventional pain practice in the Southeast, our board-certified providers at Alliance Spine & Pain Centers have extensive experience implanting spinal cord stimulators. Here, we share the process we follow for screening and qualifying patients interested in spinal cord stimulation.

Screening to determine good candidates

Spinal cord stimulators are unique because you get to try the device to see how it works before committing to the treatment. If you experience at least a 50% improvement in your pain, you can have the device implanted and keep it in place as long as it still helps.

The spinal cord stimulation trial is the ultimate step when screening patients, but it’s the last step in the process. The first step is an in-depth medical evaluation. We learn about your medical history, perform a physical examination, and do diagnostic imaging and order lab work as needed.

For the next step, we consider the key qualifying factors for spinal cord stimulation.

Qualifying for a spinal cord stimulator

You may qualify for spinal cord stimulation if you meet four criteria:

1. You’ve been diagnosed with chronic pain

This may sound obvious, but it’s still important to know that spinal cord stimulation is a treatment for those struggling with long-term pain. Chronic pain is typically defined as pain lasting three to six months or longer.

Spinal cord stimulation has the remarkable ability to treat chronic pain from numerous conditions, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Sciatica
  • Neuropathy (damaged nerves)
  • Herniated discs
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Failed back surgery
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Peripheral artery disease

How does spinal cord stimulation help so many pain conditions? Pain from every part of your body is picked up by sensory nerves and carried through the spinal cord to your brain. You don’t feel the pain until those messages reach the brain.

Since spinal cord stimulation blocks the messages in the spinal cord, it effectively targets pain originating from anywhere in your body.

2. You already tried conservative treatments

Spinal cord stimulation is not the first treatment used for chronic pain. Before considering this option, you need to give traditional therapies a chance to work. 

For most patients, this means you’ve already tried treatments like medication and physical therapy. If your pain persists despite conservative care, chances are you’re a good candidate for spinal cord stimulation.

3. You had surgery that failed or don’t want surgery

Many people turn to options like spinal cord stimulation to avoid surgery. Others come to us for pain relief after they have surgery that fails to improve their pain. Either way, spinal cord stimulation may be your next best option.

4. You don’t have contraindications

A contraindication is any physical or mental health condition that prevents you from getting a specific treatment. Spinal cord stimulation is such a safe procedure that there are very few contraindications. However, you may not be a good candidate if you have a pacemaker or you’re pregnant.

You also need to have a psychological evaluation before being approved for a spinal cord stimulation trial. These presurgery evaluations are routine for many procedures. Psychological assessments are required by many insurance companies before they agree to pay. 

The evaluation also identifies mental health challenges that might affect your response to the device or interfere with the treatment’s effectiveness. Psychological evaluations rarely lead to disqualifications.

Don’t wait to learn if you qualify for spinal cord stimulation. Even if you don’t, we offer an array of effective interventional treatment options. To learn more, call one of our Alliance Spine & Pain Centers offices or book online today.