What Can I Expect During a Trial Period With a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

What Can I Expect During a Trial Period With a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Your life has been consumed by nagging back and/or neck pain and you’re not all that keen on managing the discomfort with medications. To avoid the potential risks that come with painkillers and to find effective relief from the pain, many people are turning to spinal cord stimulation — and they all started with a trial period.

To give you an idea about what to expect during a spinal cord stimulator trial period, our team of pain management specialists at Comprehensive Pain Management, led by Drs. Boris Shwartzman and Do Chan, wants to touch on this subject in this month’s blog post.

Why a trial period?

If we decide that you’re a good candidate for a spinal cord stimulator, we first want to ensure that the pain management technique is effective before we implant the device in your body. 

A spinal cord stimulator features electrodes that go into the areas along your spine where we believe the nerves are irritated and hyperactive, and these electrodes are powered by a generator, which we implant under your skin, usually in your abdomen or buttocks.

Before we implant this generator, we first attach electrodes only, which are controlled by an external unit, to see if you find meaningful relief from your pain. In fact, the FDA recommends that anyone who is considering a spinal cord stimulator should first undergo such a trial for 3-7 days.

If, at the end of the trial, you experience pain reduction of at least 50%, we can then install the more permanent spinal cord stimulator.

Getting your trial spinal cord stimulator

When you come in for your trial spinal cord stimulator, we make you comfortable on our table and provide you with a local anesthetic.

Using live X-ray guidance, we insert a hollow needle into the epidural space around your spinal cord. This needle contains the electrodes, which we place into areas where we believe your nerves are overactive. Once the electrodes are in place, we test them with electrical impulses, and your feedback is important in helping us to make sure the leads are in the right positions.

Once we find and test the right locations for pain relief, we attach the electrodes to an external pulse transmitter, which you wear on a belt over the next few days.

We send you home with a control you operate to manage the level of electrical impulses to give you pain relief. Rest assured, we give you full instructions on controlling the unit before you leave.

Your trial period

While you may feel some soreness at the site where we inserted the needle, we want you to pay close attention to how the unit is affecting your previous pain levels. When you use the unit, note the level of electrical impulses you’re using and the percentage of pain relief you’re experiencing.

This information is invaluable in helping us to decide two things: whether a permanent spinal cord stimulator is warranted and which levels work best for your pain relief.

During this period, we may ask you to avoid showering and only take sponge baths. We might also place limits on your activities. We will, of course, supply you with any pertinent instructions such as these before you go home.

Concluding your trial

If, over the course of your trial period, you realize benefits from your temporary spinal cord stimulator, we can go ahead and make plans to implant a more permanent unit.

The placement of your permanent spinal cord stimulator is much like the installment of your trial one, except that we’ll be implanting a generator.

If you have more questions about what to expect during a spinal cord stimulator trial period, please contact one of our offices in Attleboro or Franklin, Massachusetts, or South Kingstown or Warwick, Rhode Island.

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