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A peripheral nerve stimulator is a device that applies an electrical current to an individual's peripheral nerves with the intention of alleviating chronic pain. The process of applying electricity to peripheral nerves is referred to as peripheral nerve stimulation. The peripheral nerves compose the peripheral nervous system and serve the purpose of connecting limbs, extremities, and other organs to the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord. Chronic pain, which can originate in the peripheral nervous system, is pain that lasts longer than some arbitrary amount of time, usually several months, without becoming more bearable. Chronic pain does not always have an easily identifiable cause.
Generally speaking, an individual suffering from chronic pain will be implanted with more than one peripheral nerve stimulator, as needed. While there are several techniques that can be used to send an electrical current through one's nerves, the term "peripheral nerve stimulator" typically refers to a tiny electrode that is implanted at some point in the peripheral nervous system. Several such stimulators are placed throughout the peripheral nervous system based on the duration, intensity, and location of the pain. A peripheral nerve stimulator is usually permanent and is powered by an internal battery pack.
The application of a permanent peripheral nerve stimulator is generally a two-step process. A temporary electrode is implanted first and is powered by an external power supply; if this temporary electrode is effective, an individual may receive a permanent peripheral nerve stimulator. The insertion of the permanent electrode is usually an outpatient procedure; local anesthetic is used to alleviate pain during the procedure. It is, generally speaking, a simple procedure with very few possible complications. Within a short period of time after the procedure, an individual should be able to return to normal activities, including driving, swimming, and exercising.
A peripheral nerve stimulator sends a very weak, generally painless electrical current through the peripheral nerves. Generally, a patient feels only a gentle and painless tingling location at and around the sites of the electrodes. By doing so, the electrodes essentially encourage the brain to favor these painless nerve pathways to the nerve paths that were causing the severe pain. After a while, many individuals who undergo peripheral nerve stimulation find that they are able to significantly reduce the amount of pain medication they need to keep the pain at a manageable level. Peripheral nerve stimulation has proven to be a safe and effective way of dealing with many cases of chronic pain that involve the peripheral nervous system.