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Living with a Spinal Cord Stimulator

Approximately 60,000 spinal cord stimulators are implanted each year. If you’re one of those 60,000, then you know what it’s like to have severe back pain. You also know how difficult it can be to do things the average person does without a thought, since stimulators can present new challenges in your daily life.

That being said, with a stimulator you have to be much more aware of your surroundings, but you don’t have to give up all of your freedoms. At West Texas Pain Institute, Dr. Raul Lopez and his experienced staff are here to support you through your spinal cord stimulator implantation and equip you with the management strategies you need to live a normal and pain-free life. 

Spinal cord stimulator overview

A spinal cord stimulator is an effective treatment for your back pain. It requires a minimally invasive procedure in which a thin wire is placed strategically in your spine. The wire sends mild electrical currents that disrupt the pain messages traveling from your spine to your brain. It’s best for conditions like sciatica and nerve damage that cause severe back pain. 

Your stimulator is placed in your back on a trial basis first. The battery-powered generator remains outside of your body during this trial phase. This allows Dr. Lopez to ensure that the stimulator is effectively treating your back pain. 

If the stimulator proves to be successful in treating your symptoms, you move into the permanent phase. Dr. Lopez then places permanent wires in your spine and implants the generator pack in your lower back or upper buttock. You’re given a remote which allows you to control the simulator by turning it off and on.

With your stimulator in place, you can now focus on rehabilitating your back with physical therapy and other strength-building strategies. Dr. Lopez also guides you on how to adapt to life with your new simulator and avoid possible issues that can affect it. Here are the most common complications you might run into and how to handle them:

Magnetic fields

Magnetic fields are all around you. From MRIs and X-rays to the anti-theft devices you find at retail stores, you’re likely near a magnetic field at any given point in the day. There are ways to avoid disruptions to your stimulator if you encounter a magnetic field.

Imaging

Chances are you’ll need an MRI or X-ray even after having a spinal cord stimulator implanted in your back. You can get these imaging tests done safely if you communicate early with Dr. Lopez and the imaging specialists in charge. It’s best to know the kind of stimulator you have to make sure it can withstand an MRI or X-ray. You’ll likely need to turn your stimulator off during the procedure to protect you and the device. 

Airport and other security

Scanning devices use magnetic fields to check for unwanted items on your person. First ask permission to bypass the device completely. If you must go through it, do so quickly and with your stimulator off. 

Other devices

It’s impossible to avoid magnetic fields completely. The best thing you can do is be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. Avoid power lines, generators, and large magnetized stereo speakers. Do your best to also keep your distance from tag deactivators and anti-theft devices found in retail stores and libraries. 

Household items like phones, tablets, and computers are safe to use, but be careful of items like credit cards. The magnets in your stimulator can interfere with the cards’ magnetic strip. 

Water contact

Swimming and showering are common concerns for patients with a stimulator. The good news is that you can jump in the pool, lake, and ocean and submerge yourself in water if you have a permanent stimulator. A trial stimulator cannot get wet, especially with fresh sutures. Ask Dr. Lopez when it’s safe to enjoy a cool swim. 

Driving

It’s not safe to drive or operate heavy machinery with your simulator on. Use your remote to switch your stimulator off while you drive. You’re allowed to sit in the passenger seat with your stimulator activated. 

Traveling

It’s possible that flight attendants and air travel personnel ask you to turn your stimulator off. It can interfere with the pilot’s ability to take off and land. Have your remote handy and talk with the flight crew before boarding. 

Life with a stimulator presents new challenges, but with those challenges comes the satisfaction of less back pain. If you have concerns about how to adjust to your new obstacles, call our office or request an appointment online today.

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