What to Expect During the Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial Period

Sep 07, 2023

Are you living with chronic back pain? Finding effective pain relief can be a challenging journey, especially when conservative treatments fail to deliver the results you hoped for.

If you’re searching for a long-lasting solution for chronic back pain, you might wonder if a spinal cord stimulator is right for you. Spinal cord stimulators can be an effective way to block pain signals, and our pain management team at Cascade Orthopaedics is here to help you decide if it’s a good option for you.

Before getting a permanent implant, we conduct a trial period to determine how effective treatment will be for you. Here’s what you can expect during the spinal cord stimulator trial period, from the initial consultation to the potential outcomes.

How spinal cord stimulators work

Spinal cord stimulation involves implantation of a small device into your body to manage chronic pain. The system consists of thin wires (leads) with electrical contacts and a pulse generator.

In a permanent placement, we insert the leads near your spinal cord and place the generator under the skin of your abdomen or buttocks. During the trial period, we temporarily place the leads, and you wear the generator externally.

The leads send mild electrical impulses to your spinal cord, interfering with pain signals and replacing them with a tingling sensation known as paresthesia. The goal of treatment is to reduce or mask the perception of pain, providing relief for certain chronic pain conditions.

Why we do a spinal cord stimulator trial period

The trial period is a test run for your spinal cord stimulator before you commit to a permanent implant. Spinal cord stimulation works differently for different people, and the trial gives you the opportunity to assess how well it manages your pain.

You can adjust the stimulation settings to find the most effective pain relief, and the entire process helps you make more informed decisions about proceeding with the permanent implant.

Getting your spinal cord stimulator trial

If you’re interested in a spinal cord stimulator, we conduct a comprehensive evaluation to determine if you’re a good candidate. We evaluate your medical history, imaging studies, pain symptoms, and the previous treatments you’ve tried.

During the trial procedure, we implant the leads near your spinal cord in the epidural space. After the leads are in place, we connect the external pulse generator. We show you how to control the device before you leave the office.

The spinal cord stimulator trial period typically lasts for about 5-7 days. This time frame allows you to assess the effectiveness of the system for your pain.

What to expect during your trial period

Once you have your trial spinal cord stimulator, we encourage you to participate in all your usual daily activities. The more active you are, the easier it is to assess how well the device controls your pain.

You can adjust the stimulation settings with the external pulse generator. When it’s active, you may feel a tingling or buzzing sensation. This paresthesia replaces the pain, and it typically occurs in the places where you used to feel pain.

We recommend keeping notes about your activities and pain levels over the course of the trial. This record helps both you and our team evaluate the stimulator’s impact on your pain and your overall quality of life.

Potential outcomes of the trial period

After your trial period, there are three possible outcomes: You experienced significant pain relief, partial pain relief, or no pain relief.

Spinal cord stimulator trials are generally considered successful if you experience at least 50% reduction in pain sensations. If this is the case, you may move forward with permanent implantation.

If you achieve some pain relief, we may choose to explore further adjustments to the stimulation settings. And if your trial doesn’t deliver pain relief, we can remove the leads without any lasting effects and start exploring other pain management options.

The spinal cord stimulator trial period is an essential step in determining how well this pain management approach will work for you. To find out more about spinal cord stimulators, schedule a consultation with our team at Cascade Orthopaedics.

Call our office in Auburn or Bonney Lake, Washington, or request an appointment online now.