Spinal Cord Stimulation Overview

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) trials/implants is an advanced therapy option used to relieve chronic pain, most commonly back and leg pain. SCS is offered to patients who are suffering from chronic pain and have not found relief through medication, exercise or surgery. Patients who choose SCS may be looking for an alternative method to relieve pain or are not surgical candidates. Patients selected for this procedure usually have had a prior spinal surgery, have pain in their lower back and leg, and have not found significant relief.

SCS is done by inserting a battery-operated pulse generator into the back. This generator then sends an electrical current along the spinal cord, causing a tingling sensation that blocks the feeling of pain. The stimulation does not remove the source of pain but simply prevents pain signals sent to the brain. The goal for SCS is a 50 to 70 percent reduction in pain. Successful results of SCS have shown that patients are better at managing their pain, have received a reduction in medication and have returned to a more active lifestyle.

Although SCS has shown to be effective, it does not work for everyone and the amount of pain relief varies for each person. Because some patients find the tingling sensation released by the generator unpleasant, a trial stimulation is performed before the device is permanently implanted. This procedure takes approximately one hour and consists of a generator being placed outside of the body that is about the size of a cell phone. Wires from the generator will be placed under the skin into the space on top of the spinal cord. Once the procedure is done, the patient is able to go home after the leads are placed.

You may be a candidate for SCS if you meet the following criteria:

  • Traditional therapies have not been successful.
  • Your source of pain has been verified.
  • You would not benefit from additional surgery.
  • You are not seriously dependent on pain medication or other drugs.
  • You do not have depression or other psychiatric conditions that contribute to your pain.
  • You have no medical conditions that would keep you from undergoing implantation.
  • You have had a successful trial stimulation.