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Everything You Need to Know About Spinal Cord Stimulators

Under normal circumstances, pain occurs when you injure a body part, and then it goes away when the injury heals. This is called acute pain. 

Chronic pain, on the other hand, persists long after (six months or more) its cause has resolved. But chronic pain isn’t always linked to a past injury or illness. Ongoing symptoms of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, cancer, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and back issues, can keep pain front and center.

Dr. Patrick McNulty at McNulty Spine in Las Vegas and Henderson, Nevada, specializes in controlling chronic pain, even when nothing else has worked. As a world-class, double board-certified orthopedic surgeon with 30 years of experience, Dr. McNulty knows that in some cases, surgery is the only answer to ongoing pain. But he also knows that for many of his patients, spinal cord stimulators can provide dramatic pain relief and delay surgery for months, or years, and sometimes even forever.

What is spinal cord stimulation (SCS)?

Your nerves transmit pain messages to your brain whenever you get hurt — it’s essentially an electrical process, and as such, it responds to electricity. A spinal cord stimulator uses electricity to interfere with the constant pain messages your nerves are triggering.

To do this, Dr. McNulty inserts tiny electrodes into the epidural space of your spinal column, specifically targeting the particular nerves that are misfiring. Wire leads run from the electrodes to a small, battery-operated SCS device that sends low-voltage electricity to the electrodes and interrupts pain signals. Although you may feel a slight tingle, your brain no longer registers the pain.

Dr. McNulty typically starts with a trial period to make sure SCS works for you. If you report at least 50% pain relief or more, he considers it a success and implants the device just under the skin of your hip, buttocks, or abdomen, where it gives you constant relief for as long as you have it. The battery lasts up to 10 years, at which time Dr. McNulty can easily remove it, replace it, and re-implant it.

What conditions benefit from SCS?

Not all pain calls for SCS, but if you’ve run the gamut of conservative treatment options, including physical therapy, massage therapy, hot and cold therapy, and corticosteroid injections, and still can’t get relief, SCS may be the answer. Here are some of the most common conditions Dr. McNulty treats with SCS:

Before recommending SCS, Dr. McNulty makes sure you’re otherwise healthy and can tolerate the minor implant procedure and that you don’t have any underlying conditions (including psychological disorders) that could interfere with the device.

What to expect from SCS

If Dr. McNulty determines you’re a good candidate for SCS, and your trial run proves successful, he implants the generator for long-term relief. Only a local anesthetic is necessary, as the incisions are shallow. He connects the generator device to the electrodes and tests them to make sure they’re working, relying on your feedback as he places the leads. 

After the incisions are closed and you feel comfortable, you’re free to go home. You may feel some discomfort at the incision site for a few days and up to a week, and you should avoid strenuous activity for about two weeks.

As long as your SCS device is turned off, you’re safe to undergo X-rays and CT scans, but if your SCS contains any metal, you will not be able to get an MRI until it’s removed. Also, just like a heart pacemaker, your SCS device may set off security at airports and other similar detection points. But Dr. McNulty gives you an SCS identification card that verifies your implanted device and may qualify you to bypass the electric security screening. 

Most of our patients report that SCS is a life-changing treatment, and studies show that it is often more effective than conventional pain management strategies, including follow-up surgeries for failed procedures. 

To learn more about SCS and to find out if you’re a good candidate, contact us at either our Las Vegas or Henderson, Nevada, location, or request a consultation with Dr. McNulty using our online tool. Through SCS, you may finally get real pain relief in 2021.

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