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Understanding Spinal Cord Stimulation

Woman sitting at table, talking to healthcare provider.
Discuss the results of the trial stage with your healthcare provider.

Stimulator placement is done in two stages. A trial or test stage is done first to see if spinal cord stimulation works for you. If the trial stage is a success, a permanent stimulator system may be put into place.

Getting ready at home

Your healthcare provider will give you guidelines on how to get ready for the procedures. Tell your healthcare provider what medicines you take, and ask if you should stop taking any of them. Do not eat or drink for 8 hours before you check in for the procedures.

Placing the trial leads

Monitoring devices may be attached to your chest or side. These devices measure your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

  • You will lie on an exam table on your belly. Your back is cleaned and may be covered with sterile towels.

  • Medicine is given to numb the skin near the injection site.

  • X-ray imaging (fluoroscopy) will be used to guide your healthcare provider.

  • Medicines may be given during the procedure to help you relax.

The trial leads are placed under the skin on your back through a small incision. One end of the leads is placed near the spinal cord. The other end of the leads is attached to the stimulator power source. The stimulator is then adjusted to the right level. To do this, your participation is required. For the trial stage, you wear the power source outside your body.

The trial stage

You will be told to keep a pain log during the trial stage. The log will be used to see if the stimulator system is working for you. To prevent migration of leads, your healthcare provider will tell you what activities to avoid during the trial.

Placing the permanent system

If the trial stimulator works well for you, a permanent system may be put into place. This must be done in the operating room or surgical center of a hospital. Prepare for it as instructed. During the procedure, the receiver or the power source is implanted under the skin on your abdomen or buttocks. The power source is small, so it won’t show under your clothing. After the system is in place, the settings are checked to make sure they are at the right level for you.

After the procedures

You may stay in the hospital overnight. The implant site will be sore for a few days. The leads need some time to become fixed so they don’t move around. Your healthcare provider will tell you what activities to avoid for the next month or so.

Your healthcare provider will give you further instructions on follow up appointments where you may have your stimulator programming altered, depending on how you are feeling.

Possible risks and complications

  • Spinal headache

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Worsening pain

  • Paralysis

  • Nerve damage

  • Allergic reaction to medicines

  • Lead migration

  • Broken lead

  • Death

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have:

  • Fever over 101.0°F (38.3 °C)

  • Chills

  • Pain, drainage, or increased redness at the implant site

  • Worsening headaches

Also call your healthcare provider if the pain symptoms return.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 10/1/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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