For patients with failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), their lasting pain is often not only physical, but mental and emotion as well. The term describes the situation of patients who have tried the typical “last resort” of invasive surgery – usually, spinal fusion – to resolve chronic, severe back pain to no effect.
Sadly, there is no sure fix for back pain. But there is still hope out there for patients who fall within the dreaded FBSS designation. While some patients may find help from alternative treatment methods, including acupuncture, meditation and mind-body therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, others qualify for yet another invasive procedure: spinal cord stimulation.
Spinal cord stimulation involves the implantation of a device that delivers electrical impulses to injured nerves in order to shut down pain signals. For some patients, this treatment method reduces pain by about half, meaning the ability to resume several normal daily activities and living in far less agony.
But, like other treatments, spinal cord stimulation is not effective for everyone. It’s yet another invasive procedure that comes with risks of its own. In addition to the risks associated with any surgical procedure (infection, bleeding and scar tissue formation), it comes with unique risks, such as nerve problems, unpleasant sensations and lack of effectiveness after a year or two. Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of spinal cord stimulation at www.spine-health.com.
Candidates for spinal cord stimulation have a serious decision to make. The results of a small study into factors that may influence the effectiveness of stimulation might help patients weight the potential benefits against the risks involved.
Researchers assessed the effectiveness of the procedure in 44 patients; it was deemed successful in 26 (63.6%). They then sought to identify which factors corresponded to failure: duration of pain, severity of pain, sex, age, areas of pain, type of electrodes used, number of operations, motor weakness and sensory loss.
Only two factors were identified that seemed to correspond to failed stimulation treatment: type of electrodes and sensory loss. There are two types of electrodes used in spinal cord stimulators: cylindrical and paddle-style. While some surgeons and institutions opt for cylindrical electrodes because they require a less invasive procedure, these electrodes have a higher rate of lead migration than paddle-style ones. Severe sensory loss, meaning lack of sensation when the area of the body supplied by the affected nerve is touched, was associated with poor outcomes. The researchers noted than those with moderate sensory loss sometimes experienced the electrical impulses emitted by the stimulator as annoying.
See more on this study at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
The very small size of this study means that its results shouldn’t be considered a rock-solid foundation on which to base your decision about whether or not to receive spinal cord stimulation. It does suggest that paddle electrodes are more likely to be successful, and that severe lack of sensation may lessen the likelihood that the therapy will be effective.
Information is the most important thing you can have when making tough decisions about back pain treatment options. Keep up-to-date on the growing body of research into failed back surgery syndrome and its various treatments.