In cases of serious injuries, injured workers can be left with the debilitating symptoms of chronic pain. In cases where non-surgical treatment or actual surgery has failed to relieve the pain, your workers’ compensation doctor may recommend a Spinal Cord Stimulator.
What is Chronic Pain?
Your nerves and brain are constantly communicating with each other. When you feel pain, it’s because the nerves are sending a pain signal to your brain. Normally pain signals to your brain subside once your injury has resolved, however that is not always the case for everyone and with certain types of injuries, they may not be able to heal or be resolved. Pain is considered to be “chronic” when it persists for 6 months or longer.
What Causes Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain can be caused by many different factors. Often conditions that accompany normal aging may affect bones and joints in ways that cause chronic pain. Other common causes are nerve damage and injuries that fail to heal properly.
Some kinds of chronic pain have numerous causes. Back pain, for example, may be caused by a single factor, like a spinal cord injury or amputation; or a combination of things like aging, congenital conditions, disease, poor posture or being overweight.
What is the Spinal Cord Stimulation used for?
Spinal cord stimulation is used most often after nonsurgical pain treatment options have failed to provide sufficient relief. Spinal cord stimulators may be used to treat or manage different types of chronic pain – for example:
- Back pain, especially back pain that continues even after surgery (failed back surgery syndrome)
- Post-surgical pain
- Arachnoiditis (painful inflammation of the arachnoid, a thin membrane that covers the brain and spinal cord)
- Injuries to the spinal cord
- Nerve-related pain
- Peripheral vascular disease
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Pain after an amputation
How does the Spinal Cord Stimulator Work for Pain Relief?
SCS may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty simple. SCS systems have a small implanted pulse generator, called a stimulator, and thin wires called leads. These are implanted into your body. The stimulator delivers tiny pulses of mild electric current through the leads to specific nerves on the spinal cord. These impulses mask pain signals traveling to the brain.
A remote control allows you to turn stimulation on and off, increase and decrease the level of stimulation, and target different pain areas in your body using settings or programs designed specifically for you. This stimulation does not get rid of what’s causing the pain. It changes the way the brain perceives it. SCS therapy may use a gentle tingling or fluttering sensation to replace the pain. Other forms of SCS therapy don’t cause any sensation at all. The amount of pain relief you feel is different for everyone, but the therapy is considered successful if it reduces your pain by at least 50%. Reducing harmful addicting narcotics by at least 50% is a good outcome. I think of a SCS as something similar to a TENS unit that is often used as part of physical therapy treatment. But it is much more sophisticated and effective.
Types of Spinal Cord Stimulators
Spinal cord stimulators come in three main types:
- Conventional Implantable Pulse Generator (IPG): The IPG is a battery-operated spinal code stimulator. A battery is placed in the spine during an operation. When it runs out, the battery must be replaced with another surgery. This device is often used for people with pain in just one body part because it has a lower electrical output.
- Rechargeable Implantable Pulse Generator (RIPG): This option works similarly to the conventional IPG, with the difference that the battery can be recharged without another surgery. Because the energy source is rechargeable, these stimulators can put out more electricity. This may be a better choice for people with pain in the lower back or in one or both legs, as the electrical signal can reach further.
- Radiofrequency: This is a stimulator that uses a battery that’s outside the body. This stimulator is rarely used today because of newer designs and better technology. It has rechargeable batteries, and like the rechargeable IPGs, it may be better for people with pain in the lower back and legs because of the device’s power.
Ultimately, your physician will determine which type of Spinal Cord Stimulator therapy is appropriate for you. Before you receive a permanent SCS, the doctors will put you through a battery of testing and a trail stimulator to make sure that the SCS is beneficial for you and that your body is responding to the electrodes.
Make sure you talk to your doctor so you can have a solid understanding as to the risks, benefits and need for ongoing care once you permanent stimulator is inserted. The SCS can give many people pain relief but, depending on the type of implant you receive and where the implant is located, you may have some life-long limitations recommended by your doctor in order to better protect the implant.
Will Workers Compensation Cover my SCS Surgery?
Yes! If your Richmond Workers Compensation treating physician says that this treatment is reasonable, necessary and related to your work injury, the insurance carrier can be responsible for the cost of the surgery and related ongoing care and replacement batteries. Be aware, however, that injuries that are so serious that requires a Spinal Cord Stimulator are life-long, and often times life changing so you need to make sure you have an Award Order in place to protect your Virginia Workers’ Compensation benefits. The Award is ESSENTIAL to your claim so protect yourself and talk to an experienced workers compensation lawyer as soon as possible. Call us today at (804) 755-7755.
About the Author: Michele Lewane
The Injured Workers Law Firm is a Richmond, Virginia based firm solely focused on serving clients with workers' compensation claims in Virginia. If you have questions about your benefits or if you would like more information on the Virginia workers’ compensation system, order our book, “The Ultimate Guide to Workers’ Compensation in Virginia” , or call our office today (804) 755-7755.