Imagine suffering from chronic pain that affects your everyday life. Tasks that were once simple and enjoyable become excruciatingly painful. Spinal cord stimulators offer hope to individuals suffering from chronic pain by providing relief and improving quality of life. However, when it comes to long-term use, questions arise regarding the safety and effectiveness of these devices. Let’s explore the topic of spinal cord stimulators and discuss their safety for long-term use.

Spinal cord stimulators are implantable medical devices that work by delivering electrical impulses to the spinal cord, thereby interfering with pain signals and reducing pain perception. They consist of three main components – a pulse generator, electrodes, and a remote control. The pulse generator, usually placed under the skin in the lower abdomen or buttock, generates the electrical signals. Thin wires with electrodes are then inserted into the epidural space near the spinal cord, and these electrodes are connected to the pulse generator. The remote control allows the patient to adjust the stimulation levels according to their pain needs.

Short-Term Safety

Spinal cord stimulators have a well-established safety profile in the short term. Clinical studies have shown that complications associated with the implantation procedure, such as infection or bleeding, occur in less than 5% of cases. These risks are similar to those associated with other surgical procedures. Furthermore, trials have demonstrated significant pain relief and improved quality of life for patients using spinal cord stimulators. However, it is important to note that the long-term safety of these devices requires further investigation.

Long-Term Safety

While spinal cord stimulators have proven to be effective in the short term, concerns regarding long-term safety persist. Limited evidence suggests that the risk of complications, such as electrode migration or failure, may increase over time. In rare cases, scar tissue formation around the electrodes can lead to ineffective pain relief or even require reoperation. It is important for patients to understand and discuss these potential risks with their healthcare providers before deciding to implant a spinal cord stimulator.

Battery Life and Replacement

Spinal cord stimulators are powered by batteries that eventually need replacement. On average, stimulator batteries last for 5 to 7 years, depending on usage. When the battery depletes, an outpatient procedure is performed to replace the pulse generator. Although the replacement procedure is generally less invasive than the initial implantation, it still carries a small risk of complications such as infection or bleeding. Patients must weigh the potential benefits of continuous pain relief against the need for battery replacement during long-term use.

Patient Selection and Expectations

An important factor in ensuring the long-term safety of spinal cord stimulators is appropriate patient selection. Patients should undergo thorough evaluations to determine if they are suitable candidates for the procedure. Healthcare providers must assess the patient’s pain history, response to conservative treatments, and psychological well-being. Additionally, setting realistic expectations is essential. Spinal cord stimulators may not eliminate pain, but they can significantly reduce it, allowing patients to manage their pain more effectively and engage in daily activities with less discomfort.

Spinal cord stimulators can be a valuable treatment option for individuals suffering from chronic pain. While they have demonstrated short-term safety and efficacy, the long-term safety of these devices requires further investigation. Patients should carefully consider the potential risks and benefits before deciding on implantation. Commonwealth Spine & Pain Specialists can provide expert guidance in assessing individual suitability and assisting patients in making informed decisions about their pain management. If you or a loved one are considering spinal cord stimulators for long-term pain relief, contact us for professional help.