Peripheral nerve stimulation, also known as neuromodulation, is a minimally invasive treatment for pain that uses a mild electric current to interrupt nerve impulses. Specialists at UM Pain may turn to this technique when pain has not responded to more conventional treatments, including physical therapy, injections and medications.

How Peripheral Nerve Stimulation Works

Doctors implant a small wire under the skin close to nerves and place a small battery pack, which could be internal or external, over this area to power the wire. The device is programmed to maximize pain relief by disrupting pain signals to the brain. 

Conditions Peripheral Nerve Stimulation Treats

Because this technique targets pain associated with the peripheral nerves — those outside the brain and spinal cord — it can relieve chronic pain in a variety of areas. The conditions it commonly treats are: 

  • Chest wall pain
  • Nerve injury
  • Peripheral neuralgia
  • Post-stroke pain
  • Post-surgical pain
  • Stump pain or phantom limb pain

Patient Information: Peripheral Nerve Stimulation

How do I prepare for the procedure?

Your healthcare team will provide instructions for how to prepare for this procedure. This information will include when you can eat prior to the procedure and what medications you can and cannot take. If you are diabetic, pregnant or taking blood thinners, such as Coumadin (warfarin) or Plavix, let your doctor know.

You should arrange to have someone drive you home from the procedure. 

What happens during the actual procedure?

The implantation of a nerve stimulator is typically a same-day surgical procedure that takes about one to two hours. You will be under anesthesia with moderate to deep sedation. Your doctor will insert the wire under the skin near the target nerve through a small surgical incision. 

What will happen after the procedure?

You will remain in our recovery area about one to two hours while we monitor your vital signs. A representative from the device company will review the instructions for use. Our pain management team will give you verbal and written discharge instructions. You may go home with your driver after your doctor authorizes discharge. Your surgical site will heal for about two weeks before your follow-up appointment. At that time, we will place the battery and the turn the stimulator on.

What are the risks of the procedure?

As with most procedures, there is a risk of bleeding, infection or allergic reaction to the medications used. Some mild short-term side effects include headache, nausea or dizziness. Rare brain or nervous system complications can occur. 

Specific risks of nerve stimulator implantation also include the following: 

  • Infection
  • Damage to the nerves or other surrounding structures
  • Movement of or damage to the generator or lead
  • Pain after surgery
  • Problems with how the stimulator works, such as sending too strong of a signal, stopping and starting, or sending a weak signal
  • The stimulator may not work

The nerve stimulator device may interfere with other devices, such as pacemakers and defibrillators. After the implantation, you may not be able to get an MRI safely. Discuss this with your health care provider.