Neurostimulation provides pain relief by blocking the pain messages before they reach the brain. The neurostimulator sends out mild electrical impulses that reach the brain faster than the pain signal can arrive. In other words, it outsmarts your pain. Instead of pain, you feel a tingling sensation.
A neurostimulator is a surgically implanted device about the size of a small stopwatch. It delivers mild electrical signals to the epidural area near your spine through one or more thin wires, called leads. The electrical signals cause a tingling sensation in the area of your chronic pain.
You can adjust the strength and location of stimulation using a handheld programmer. For example, you can regulate different levels of stimulation at different times of the day or for various activities – such as walking, sleeping, or sitting. When using a neurostimulator, can automatically adjust stimulation when you are upright (sitting or standing), lying down, or active while in an upright position.
A complete neurostimulation system includes several components:
- Neurostimulator – The device that generates the electrical impulses (usually placed under the skin in your abdomen or upper buttock)
- Leads – Thin, insulated medical wires that deliver electrical pulses to the epidural space near the spine
- Physician’s programmer – A computer at your doctor’s office that lets your doctor adjust the neurostimulation system and its settings
- Patient’s programmer – A handheld device you can use at home to customize the stimulation (within the settings your doctor has selected)
The neurostimulation system does not make any noise. It may be felt as a small bump under your skin, but does not normally show through your clothes.
Neurostimulation provides advantages over other therapies for chronic pain:
- Unlike other chronic pain treatments or surgeries, you can experience neurostimulation and see if it relieves your pain before committing to the long-term therapy.
- A screening test serves as a temporary evaluation period. The screening test is much like an injection, but instead of medication being placed into the epidural space, leads are positioned and connected to an external neurostimulator (battery pack)
- It does not have to be a permanent procedure. The neurostimulator can be surgically removed if you do not like it or if you decide to pursue a different treatment
- Unlike oral medications that circulate throughout your entire body, neurostimulation targets the precise area where you are feeling pain
- A neurostimulator may provide relief when other treatments – like medications or injections – have not
Neurostimulation may reduce your chronic pain and improve your ability to go about your daily activities. Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks associated with using a neurostimulator for your chronic back and leg pain.