X-ray image of the epidural stimulation device

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Spinal cord injuries (SCI) have a significant impact on an individual’s life. The extent of the damage sustained and the level of the spinal cord injury are two major factors that influence the prognosis.

Fortunately, there have been huge advances in recent years in the treatment and management of spinal cord injuries. There are now a wide range of therapies and medical solutions, backed up by extensive research, that are designed to reduce symptoms such as chronic pain and even help patients to regain their mobility.

Advances in technology have also greatly improved the options available to individuals with spinal cord injuries, and in this post, we will look at one advancement in particular; spinal cord stimulators.

First of all it’s important to differentiate what is meant by a ‘spinal cord stimulator’ as there is often some confusion due to the different types of therapies and treatments that use the.

Generally speaking, spinal cord stimulators are used in two different ways. One of them is the management of pain and the other is a treatment option to improve mobility, amongst other things.

While the former has been around for over 50 years, the latter is more of a recent innovation and one which is has been hailed as a breakthrough development in the treatment of spinal cord injuries.

Below is a more in depth look at the differences between the two ways in which spinal cord stimulators are typically used.

Spinal Cord Stimulators for Pain Management

Many spinal cord injury patients not only have to deal with reduced mobility and lack of sensation, but also chronic pain. While there are methods such as medication, massage and other therapies that can help, it can be a difficult thing to live with.

Managing pain through spinal cord stimulation has been around for half a century or so and has become increasingly sophisticated over that time, particularly in recent years. While it’s not the ideal solution for everyone with chronic pain issues, many SCI patients have benefited from it.

This method works by implanting a small spinal cord stimulator under the skin so that it can be used to send signals via electrical impulses to the nerves connected to the area where the chronic pain is occurring. Its job is not to stop the pain, but to mask the pain signal that gets sent to the brain.

How pain is perceived is a very personal thing which can make it difficult to adjust the spinal cord stimulator for the individual. Ideally, a patient will try it out first before the device is actually properly implanted beneath the skin. The aim is usually to try and reduce pain by 50% or more, but this isn’t always possible.

There are a variety of different models of spinal cord stimulator for pain management on the market nowadays, but they all share certain characteristics. They have a pulse generator, a lead wire that connects to the nerves of the spine and a handheld control that the patient can use to vary the signal.

Epidural Stimulation

For many individuals with serious spinal cord injuries, regaining some of the mobility that was lost as a result of the injury is often their number one goal. Epidural stimulation is a treatment option which has been proven in many cases to achieve this.

The procedure, which an be used for both complete and incomplete spinal cord injuries, involves the implantation of an electronic stimulator into the lumbar region of the patient.

The device allows for electrical currents to bypass the site of the injury, reaching spinal nerves and muscles and stimulating movement. Ordinarily, these movements would occur as a result of brain impulses, but a serious spinal cord injury can permanently interrupt this process.

Spinal Cord Injury patient treatment testimonial Isaac
Patients who received epidural stimulation treatment have made great progress as a result

Patients who have received this treatment have noticed impressive results, including regaining mobility in their arms and legs. Many have been able to bear their own weight when standing, once the spinal cord stimulator is switched on, which in turn can help to build muscle mass. Other improvements, such as better bladder and bowel control and more stable blood pressure, have also been achieved as a result of this procedure.

Individuals who receive Epidural stimulation treatment will also undergo extensive periods of physical therapy to help them get used to the device and the positive effects that it brings.

Research continues all the time, but the results from this breakthrough treatment have been extremely positive and very well received.

Summary

Using spinal cord stimulators to improve pain management in spinal cord injury patients has been used for a long while now and the technology continues to improve. The more exciting development of epidural stimulation, however, is hailed as a breakthrough treatment option for spinal cord injuries and although it’s relatively new, it has already allowed many individuals to make progress in ways that they thought would never be possible.