Neurostimulation for Chronic Pain
Information for patients and families
I. What is neurostimulation?
Neurostimulation is used to treat long lasting (chronic) pain. It’s an electric system that will be placed in your body. The battery will be placed under your skin and the lead (medical wire) will be placed either in your spine at the back, at your neck or on a specific nerve. The neurostimulator works by sending mild electrical beats to the space near your spine. These electrical beats block the pain message from reaching your brain, and replace the pain with another message of tingling.
Because the neurostimulator works in the area where the pain messages travel, electrical beats (which are felt as tingling) can be sent to specific parts of your body where you are feeling pain.
Neurostimulation does not remove the source of your pain, but can change your feeling of pain. The results can vary from one person to another.
Your participation is important for the success of this treatment.
II. Who can benefit from neurostimulation?
In general, neurostimulation is considered when other options for the management of chronic pain have been tried and have failed. Some of these options are:
• You had at least one surgery on your spine and no more surgery is planned on your spine or the nerve
• You have tried treatments like nerve blocks, physiotherapy and epidurals
• Medication did not ease your pain enough or the side effects have been too bad
• You have been evaluated by a psychologist for your pain problem
• You can understand how neurostimulation works and what you will need to do
• You do not have a drug habit
• You do not have an infection
• You do not have a pacemaker
When you are referred by your doctor to the MNH Chronic Pain Clinic for a neurostimulator, you will be seen and examined by many members of the team who will decide if this therapy would be right for you. The team will meet after they each have seen you and decide if this therapy could be good for you.
If the decision is yes, they will refer you to the Preadmission clinic to prepare you for the surgery. If this is not a good option for you, you will be referred to other clinics or options.
Neurostimulation is used to treat long lasting pain in these conditions:
• Chronic back pain after surgery and related pain in the legs
• Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) or Algodystrophy
• Nerve pain
• Pain related to refractory angina (pain that is caused by a heart condition)
III. How is it implanted?
The neurostimulator is implanted at the MNH in 2 phases:
The day you have this surgery you must bring someone with you. Please bring all your medication
This is a test period.
Phase 1 is to insert the lead (wire) in the epidural space in your spine or on a specific nerve. You will receive local anesthesia (an injection to freeze the skin) for this step. After the lead is inserted, the stimulation is started by the surgical team to be sure that the wire is in the right place. The lead will then be connected to an external battery and you can try the neurostimulation for 1 or 2 days.
Phase 1 is usually done as a day surgery, you will be able to leave the hospital after it is done.
If you live far (more than one hour by car), we advise you to stay in town. We will give you a list of places to stay near the hospital if you need it.
Before you leave we will teach you how to use the stimulation, how to care for the wounds, and what medication to use at home. We will also speak to you about daily activities.
The purpose of this test is to find out if the neurostimulation will work on your pain. We will ask you to rate your pain on a 0 –10 scale during the experience, and to tell us how much the pain has gone down in percentage (i.e. 10 – 50%) once you started using the neurostimulation. We will also ask you to tell us if you feel tingling replacing the pain in the painful area and if you think you can do more things like walking and sitting while you are on neurostimulation.
As pain is mostly a personal experience, we need you to tell us if the stimulation is helping to ease the pain.
If the neurostimulation does not work for you during the test period, the lead is removed. If this Phase 1 test has worked to reduce your pain, a complete neurostimulation system is implanted (Phase 2).
The complete neurostimulation system will be implanted.
When this is done, you will receive general anesthesia (medication that will put you to sleep). In most cases the battery will be implanted in your abdomen or in your chest.
This is also a day surgery and you will be able to leave the hospital on the same day. The neurostimulation will not be started on this day. You will have to come back to the clinic in 10 – 14 days to have it started. Your stitches will be removed in the clinic or by the CLSC if needed.
You are responsible for the equipment, like the patient programmer, that we give you after the surgery.
Please bring someone with you both times you come, for your trial and your final implant.
After the neurostimulator is implanted, you will be seen at the clinic every month for 3 months and after that as needed.
What are the possible complications?
Like all surgeries some problems can happen right after the surgery:
• You may have an infection. This is very rare and an antibiotic therapy will be started.
• The lead might move or get out of place.
• The stimulation may not cover the painful area or stop relieving your pain. You will need to have the neurostimulator reprogrammed.
IV. What you should know about neurostimulation.
• Do not drive a motor vehicle or operate heavy machinery when the stimulator is ON to prevent the risk of an accident by a sudden surge of stimulation.
• Talk to your doctor before having your spine manipulated by a chiropractor or osteopath.
• Be careful about going through security systems such as those found in libraries or airports. These devices may contain a strong magnet which may turn your stimulator ON or OFF.
• The stimulation may become stronger when you bend your neck or back or when you lie down or sit. You can reduce the intensity with your patient programmer.
• The stimulation may become weaker when you stand up. You can increase the stimulation using your patient programmer.
• The stimulation may seem to stop when you bend forward or backward. It will restart again when you change position.
• If the stimulation is uncomfortable at any time, turn the stimulator off, and contact the clinic for an adjustment and battery check.
For 8 weeks following surgery for spinal cord stimulator, DO NOT :
- Put your arms over your head
- Bend, twist, stretch, or lift more than 5 pounds
- Sleep on your stomach
- Climb too many stairs
- Sit too long in a chair
- Drive for several weeks or according to your physician’s instructions. This is to lower the risk of sudden movements or shifts in your position which will increase the risk of lead movement.
WARNINGThe following medical procedures and equipments are INCOMPATIBLE with a neurostimulator, please tell your doctor if you have to have one:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Radiotherapy with X-rays that deliver more than 700 rads
- Electrocautery near the stimulator (used during surgery)
- Diathermy (Heat treatment)
- Cardiac pace-maker