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The central nervous system uses the process of neuromodulation to transmit nerve signals to large groups of nerve cells or neurons. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and acetylcholine are brain chemicals that often use a neuromodulation process to transmit brain signals to large groups of neurons. They affect the perception of pain as well as mood, cognitive ability and other nervous system functions. The process of neuromodulation can also be used as a medical treatment with the help of an electrical device that stimulates nerve transmission, such as a spinal cord stimulator or a sacral nerve stimulator. An electrical device may block pain signals and alter the transmission of nerve signals in other ways to help patients with certain medical conditions.
Spinal cord stimulation is a form of neuromodulation that typically uses low-voltage electricity to stimulate the nerves of the spinal cord and relieve chronic pain. Patients with pain in the abdomen, leg or arm may benefit from this form of treatment. In most cases, a surgeon implants electrodes into the epidural space near a patient’s spinal cord. The electrodes are typically attached to a pulse generator with an extension wire. A pulse generator is usually placed between the skin and muscles in the abdomen.
In some cases, patients with implanted spinal cord stimulators experience significant pain relief due to blocked transmissions of pain signals in the nervous system. Physicians may alter the strength of stimulation during an office visit. Many patients use a handheld programmer to turn the stimulator on or off. In most cases, doctors may recommend that patients not use a stimulator while driving or swimming. People with implanted stimulators might be asked for an implanted device identification card when they pass through a security checkpoint at an airport.
A sacral nerve stimulator is an implantable device that may help patients who have chronic pelvic pain. This type of electrical device can also help some patients with urination disorders such as urinary incontinence and frequent urges to urinate. The sacral nerve stimulator is surgically implanted under a patient’s skin in the upper part of the buttocks in most cases. This type of surgery is typically performed on an outpatient basis. Many people have experienced relief from bladder control problems with a sacral nerve stimulator.
Percutaneus neuromodulation therapy, or PNT, is a type of medical treatment that some doctors use to treat patients with chronic back or neck pain. A physician typically inserts thin electrodes into the skin near a patient’s spine and applies electrical stimulation to nerves that cause pain. Most PNT sessions last no more than 30 minutes and may help block the transmission of pain signals by hypersensitive nerves. Many patients return to work or other regular daily activities soon after a percutaneus neuromodulation therapy session.