How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial Work?

How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial Work?

Pain is becoming far too central to your life and you want to find relief, without resorting to surgery or risky medications. A spinal cord stimulator may hold the key to this relief, and the best way to test that is by undergoing a trial period.

For the 50,000 recipients of a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) each year, most go through a trial period to ensure that this approach to managing the pain delivers meaningful relief.

Here at Pain Medicine Consultants, our team also conducts spinal cord stimulation trial periods with our patients before implanting the devices. Here’s a look at what you can expect during this short time.

Why a trial period?

Imagine that you could test whether surgery or certain medication would work ahead of time rather than having to plow forward and hope for the best results. The spinal cord stimulation trial period offers you just such a chance.

For a few days, you can test whether neuromodulation (delivering mild electrical impulses to disrupt pain messaging) provides you with relief from your pain. If it does, we take the next step and implant the device. 

If, on the other hand, spinal cord stimulation proves ineffective, then at least we have another clue about your pain and can try other avenues. Either way, nothing that happens during your trial period lasts beyond the trial.

What happens during the trial period

To start your trial, we insert electrodes into the area of your spine where we believe the nerves are overactive and are sending pain signals. To ensure that we target the right area, we deliver electrical pulses through the electrodes while you’re on the treatment table. You report back to us in real time.

Once we’re satisfied that the electrodes are in the right positions, we supply you with an external pulse generator that you can control. Before you leave, we show you how to operate the device to deliver the neuromodulation treatment on demand.

Then for 3-7 days, you can experiment with the SCS to help you figure out whether this is a pain management approach you want to pursue.

After your trial period

If, after your trial period, you achieve at least a 50% reduction in pain, we consider this a success. If you feel the same way, we take the next step and implant a generator into your body, usually in your buttocks, that you can control with a remote. 

If the trial period was not successful, we simply remove the electrodes.

Even after we implant the generator, spinal cord stimulation is still a reversible procedure. We can also tweak the neuromodulation if your needs change.

If you have more questions about spinal cord stimulation and the trial period, please contact one of our offices in Pleasanton, Pleasant Hill, or Corte Madera, California, to schedule an appointment.

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