Florida Pain Medicine is a rotation site and teaching facility for USF Health ACGME Pain Medicine Fellowship and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Residency.
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How Does a Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial Work?

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) does a remarkable job of relieving chronic pain, and the device can stay implanted for years or as long as it still reduces your pain — but it doesn’t achieve the same results for everyone.

A spinal cord stimulation trial allows you to take the device for a test run and learn if it reduces your pain well enough to use it for an extended time, even years if it keeps easing your pain.

Our skilled Florida Pain Medicine team has extensive experience helping patients decide if SCS is the next best step in their pain management and setting them up for a trial. Here’s the rundown of what to expect before, during, and after your trial period.

Before your SCS trial

Spinal cord stimulation isn’t the first treatment for chronic pain. We begin your care with the least invasive therapies, taking into account the underlying condition, how long you’ve lived with the pain, and previous treatments you tried.

If your pain doesn’t improve with physical therapy, medication management, and other interventional options like joint injections and epidural steroid injections, a SCS trial may be the next step.

You qualify for a trial when:

You only need to decide if you want to try the device to begin your SCS trial.

Starting your SCS trial

SCS sends mild electrical impulses into the spinal nerves transmitting pain messages to your brain. The stimulation blocks the nerve signals, significantly reducing chronic pain for many people.

To start your SCS trial, we take the following steps:

Insert lead wires

The electrical pulses reach your spinal nerves through long, narrow lead wires placed in the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord.

After applying a local anesthetic, we use a needle-like device to access the epidural space and guide the wires along your spinal cord until the wires’ electrodes are next to the targeted nerves.

Attach pulse generator

We attach the lead wires to a pulse generator. For the trial, you wear the pulse generator outside your body. 

The device is programmable, allowing us to set the strength and frequency of the pulses and turn them on and off. We show you how to adjust the pulse generator, so you can change the settings within certain limits.

During the SCS trial

After the lead wires and pulse generator are in place, you wear the device for a week. As you go about your daily life, you’ll quickly learn how well SCS works for you.

During your trial, you’ll have a few limitations. For example, the generator can’t get wet, so you’ll need to change your bathing habits. You’ll also need to avoid strenuous activities to prevent pulling the lead wires out of place.

We also ask you to keep a record of your pain levels and experience with spinal cord stimulation. Though patients always believe they’ll remember, crucial details like needing to change the device settings are often fuzzy by the end of the week.

It’s essential to know information such as:

You don’t need to keep an extensive diary, but it helps to jot a few notes at least once daily.

After the SCS trial

At the end of the week, we review your experience and the level of pain improvement you achieved. Then, we make a joint decision about whether or not to keep the device.

If the trial reduces your pain by at least 50% and you want to keep the spinal cord stimulator, the lead wires stay in place, and we implant the generator under your skin. After implantation, you don’t need to limit your activities or worry about it getting wet.

If your pain doesn’t improve or you don’t want SCS, we remove the lead wires. At that point, we discuss your other pain management choices.

Florida Pain Medicine has helped many patients overcome chronic pain, whether with SCS or other advanced treatments. Call the nearest office, or request an appointment online to begin your journey toward a higher quality of life.

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