Spinal cord stimulation, also known as SCS, uses electrical impulses to relieve chronic pain of the back, arms and legs. It is believed that electrical pulses prevent pain signals from being received by the brain. SCS candidates include people who suffer from neuropathic pain and for whom conservative treatments have failed. This can help you with pain relief when other therapies have been unsuccessful.
If you suffer from failed back surgical syndrome and would like additional information on this painful condition, please review our failed back surgical syndrome article. If you are interested in or scheduled for a spinal cord stimulator trial or implant and would like additional information on this interventional procedure, please review the video and frequently asked questions below. Additionally, if you have questions or concerns do not hesitate to discuss them with your physician.
Spinal Cord Stimulator FAQ
Spinal cord stimulators are a small pacemaker-like device that generates electrical signals from a “generator” and passes them through thin wires called “leads.” These electrical signals mask pain signals going to the brain with the goal of reducing pain. A remote control allows for you to change settings such as intensity, location and turning the device on and off. Some forms of spinal cord stimulator therapy cause a gentle tingling sensation that replaces the pain sensation and other forms of spinal cord stimulator therapy have no sensation at all. While the device does not eliminate the source of pain it instead prevents the brain from processing the signal as pain.
Spinal cord stimulator therapy is typically used to treat spinal stenosis, complex regional pain syndrome, failed back surgical syndrome (pain after spine surgery), sciatica and peripheral neuropathy.
Spinal cord stimulator therapy is performed in two stages. First, a “trial,” and then a permanent implant. A trial is performed so you may determine if this therapy is effective for you before committing to a permanent implant.
The trial is performed under X-ray guidance and a local anesthetic (numbing medication) is used to provide pain relief. One or two leads are placed using a needle similar to how an epidural is placed. Once the leads are in the epidural space they are guided into the proper position, secured at the skin, and an external generator about the size of a deck of cards is worn. A remote is also available to control the device for the duration of the 5 to 7 day trial. A successful trial is when a patient has had 50% or more pain reduction or significant improvement in quality of life. The leads are removed at the follow-up visit in your doctor’s office similar to how an IV catheter is removed.
The permanent implant is performed under X-ray guidance in a surgery center with an anesthesiologist. Sedation and local anesthetic (numbing medication) is used to keep you comfortable during the procedure. Under X-ray guidance one or two leads are placed through a small incision(s) into the epidural space. Once the leads are in the epidural space they are guided into the proper position, secured internally, and an internal generator about the size of a pacemaker is placed typically below the waist band. Spinal cord stimulator therapy is a reversible procedure and the device can be removed in the future.
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