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Why Do I Need Psychological Screening for Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Spinal Cord Stimulation is increasingly being offered to patients suffering from chronic pain. The procedure uses systems that are either implanted or external to simulate large nerve fibers. These fibers effectively block the primary nerve pathways of the smaller nerve fibers that conduct pain sensations. The procedure is provided for patients suffering from a range of conditions, including traumatic nerve injury and failed back surgery, and the success of the procedure ranges from 20% to 70%. Though Spinal Cord Stimulation is a relatively new protocol, it has already been seen that there are certain psychological characteristics that play a key role in whether or not it is successful in reducing patient pain. As a result, psychological screening has become an integral step in determining whether it is an appropriate therapy for a particular patient and their condition.

If you are discussing Spinal Cord Stimulation as a treatment for your pain, your doctor will likely ask you to undergo this type of assessment. This is not only to help determine whether you will receive the relief that you’re looking for, but also to help predict the effectiveness of Spinal Cord Stimulation for other patients in the future. The test will gauge your own particular experience and tolerance of pain, as well as whether there are other emotional factors that might work against its effectiveness for you.

Experience of pain is a highly individual thing, and can be a strong indication of whether Spinal Cord Stimulation is going to make the difference you seek. Studies have shown that the more sensitive you are to pain, the less effective the therapy is likely to be for you. It has also been shown that advanced age and longer duration of the pain experience works against success.

In addition to these factors, there are also specific emotional issues, ways of thinking, and behaviors that can specifically impede pain therapy. These include whether you are currently suffering from depression, whether your expectations for pain relief are realistic, the severity and location of your pain, and how long you’ve been suffering from the condition. Other elements such as a history of abuse, substance abuse or trauma, the use of nicotine, or the lack of a social support system can have an impact.  Generally speaking, the more distress you are experiencing or the higher your level of anxiety or irritability, the lower your chance of seeing real improvement from this type of intervention.

In addition to the psychological assessment, your physician will also have you undergo a trial version of Spinal Cord Stimulation prior to a full version of the treatment. This will help to give an even clearer sense of whether a permanent implantation will be effective in helping to reduce your pain.  These trials can vary in length, but generally last between four and ten days. The ideal result of the trial is reducing pain by approximately half.

If you would like more information on Spinal Cord Stimulation and whether you are a candidate for this innovative treatment, contact our office today to set up an appointment.