By: Michael Rose
The purpose of a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is to significantly reduce chronic back and leg pain. It is a particularly viable pain management option for those who have yet to find an effective form of treatment in conventional therapies and systemic pain medications, or who have experienced negative side effects from these treatments.
A patient may be eligible to receive a spinal cord stimulator due to a variety of issues. In some cases, failed back surgery (FBS or failed back surgery syndrome) is the cause of persistent and recurring back pain. In these cases, patients have undergone surgery to fix a back problem, but have found the surgery to be ineffective in terms of pain management. A spinal cord stimulator implant may help to reduce this pain. The SCS can also treat inoperable ischemic limb pain, which is back pain caused by oxygen deprivation in the back. The implant also treats patients suffering from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD or Type I Complex Regional Pain Syndrome). RSD symptoms include a burning sensation in an extremity (arms, legs, hands, and feet), pain, tenderness, swelling, motor disability, visible pathological changes (such as texture, color, and temperature of extremity), and stiffness. RSD can be caused by sprains, fractures, surgery, blood vessel and nerve damage, and brain injury.
The implant serves as a form of stimulation therapy in that it helps control back and leg pain by sending small electrical impulses to the spine, which distract the brain from detecting pain signals. The spinal cord stimulator is implanted in the lower back; specifically, it is placed in a narrow cavity in the spine called the epidural space. Along with the implant itself, the owner is given a small external remote that allows him/her to generate a pulse by signaling the implant. The spinal cord stimulator is attached to the spine through leads, which are connected to wires that produce electricity via a battery. The stimulator sends low currents of electricity through these wires into the leads. The electrical currents from the leads create a tingling sensation that disguise the pain signals as they travel to the brain so that the owner feels less discomfort than they normally would without the presence of the stimulator.
After a physician consultation, a patient will undergo a trial period during which they have the electrodes placed in their epidural space. This trial period lasts three to seven days and if, after this period, the patient has experienced a pain reduction of over 50%, a surgeon will anchor the electrodes to ligaments in the spine, position the pulse generator, and implant the connecting wires. Every surgery has its adverse effects, but the spinal cord stimulator implantation is considered to be minimally invasive and is easily reversible when compared to conventional back surgeries.
Patients who receive the SCS implant two years after they begin experiencing back pain have a success rate of over 75% (Science Daily). The SCS may be more cost effective to some patients who are considering repeat surgery or other costly treatments. Boston Scientific and Medtronic are the leading producers of spinal cord stimulators, which range in price from $20,000 to $60,000; however, health insurance will frequently cover all or part of the cost of a spinal cord stimulator.
Untreated chronic pain leads to a myriad of unfortunate side effects. Pain sufferers may experience anxiety and depression, economic hardship, increased stress, and work absenteeism. In some cases, the back and leg pain a patient is experiencing may have been completely preventable. Herniated discs, which lead to surgery, RSD, and other back and leg injuries are frequently caused by one time injuries– such as falls and heavy lifting– or consistent repetitive motion. If you are experiencing chronic back/leg pain, talk with your doctor about the spinal cord stimulator and other treatments. Additionally, you may want to consider speaking with an attorney. Your injury may have occurred as a result of negligence; if you or a loved one is experiencing back and/or leg pain due to an injury, you may be entitled to receive compensation from an at-fault party.
At Hach & Rose, LLP, we have recovered millions of dollars for those who suffer from chronic pain. We obtained a $6 million jury verdict for a woman who suffered from RSD as a result of a knee injury suffered on the job, more than $3.5 million for a construction supervisor who injured his back falling off of a ladder, a $2.2 million jury verdict for a man who suffered a back injury following an automobile accident, and $1.2 million for a construction worker who tripped on debris. Contact Hach & Rose, LLP, at (212) 779-0057 to speak with one of our New York City personal injury attorneys, who are more than happy to assist you in determining your legal rights.