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Navigating Life with a Spinal Cord Stimulator: Understanding Permanent Restrictions

A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) can be an effective solution to chronic pain. When traditional non-surgical methods don’t yield the desired outcomes, your doctor may recommend a stimulator.

The SCS works by sending electrical pulses to your spinal cord and preventing the pain signal from reaching your brain. While this pain relief method can be highly effective, it comes with certain restrictions.

Understanding how to live with a spinal cord stimulator can help you make the most out of this chronic pain treatment.

Overview of Spinal Cord Stimulators

A spinal cord stimulator consists of a pulse generator implanted under your skin and electrodes that are surgically placed near the spinal cord.

The stimulator works not by preventing the pain signal from reaching your brain, but by replacing it with a pulse that either reduces the pain or blocks it entirely.

To receive a spinal cord stimulator, patients must undergo a surgical procedure, which is generally performed under local anesthesia and as an outpatient procedure. The recovery period is around two weeks.

Permanent Restrictions Post-Implantation

Once you start using the spinal cord stimulator, you will have to review some of your habits and make certain changes to your lifestyle.

Heavy Lifting and Exercising

Immediately following the SCS procedure, you will have to limit some of your physical activities. Avoid bending, twisting, stretching, and lifting heavy objects to allow your body to heal. After two weeks, patients generally start easing into their regular exercise routine, but your physician may provide you with other recommendations.

Most patients go back to their normal exercise pace four to six weeks after the surgery. If you’ve been lifting heavy weights before the implantation, you can return to these activities once you are fully healed.

Medical Procedures

In the past, patients with spinal cord stimulators couldn’t do MRI scans because the devices contained metal. Today, many manufacturers make MRI-compatible units. Talk to your doctor about the type of the implanted device and whether this restriction is valid in your case.

Other procedures you may need to avoid include diathermy, ultrasound, electrocautery, radiotherapy, lithotripsy (to break up kidney stones), and bone growth stimulators.

Surgeries and Implants

Always tell your doctors about the spinal cord stimulator before planning any surgeries or getting other medical implants. The stimulator can interfere with anesthesia and affect ECG monitoring.

Travel Considerations

When driving with a spinal cord stimulator, consider turning it off. Due to the seated position while driving, you’ll naturally put extra pressure on the device. This can increase the intensity of the sensation and cause distractions.

It’s safe to fly with the spinal cord stimulator; however, prolonged sitting may lead to unpleasant sensations. You may want to turn the device off during a long flight.

Your doctor will give you a card that says you have a spinal cord stimulator. It will be helpful to present it in places where the device may set off anti-theft equipment and metal detectors.

Adjusting to a New Lifestyle

While these restrictions may seem significant, they don’t have to affect your quality of life. Some people may have trouble adjusting to these restrictions emotionally, but the benefits of pain reduction usually outweigh the discomfort these limitations bring.

To help you get through the adjustment period, consider finding a spinal cord stimulator support group or online forum for people who live with spinal cord stimulators.

Starting a New Life with a Spinal Cord Stimulator

A spinal cord stimulator doesn’t just improve your quality of life by alleviating pain. It comes with a few limitations that require you to adjust some aspects of your lifestyle. To make sure you are navigating your new circumstances correctly, always stay in touch with your doctor.

If you’d like to learn more about living with a spinal cord stimulator or speak to a qualified physician, contact our medical team today.