Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a common pain management technique that delivers a low-voltage electrical current to the spinal cord to block the sensation of pain. A spinal cord stimulator is similar to a pacemaker; however, it is used for pain management with patients suffering from chronic pain.
Chronic pain is long standing pain that persists beyond any usual recovery period or accompanies a chronic health condition. Because this type of pain is not protective and is not a result of an injury, it is referred to as “pathological” and is therefore treated as a condition, not as a symptom. Chronic pain often interferes with work, eating, physical activity, or enjoying life.
Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)
SCS is a widely accepted, FDA-approved, medical treatment for chronic pain of the trunk and limbs (back, legs, and arms). This treatment uses a small device implanted in the lower back or buttocks that emits a mild electrical current to block pain.
A spinal cord stimulator sends electrical pulses to the spinal cord via leads that are placed in the epidural space along the spine. The pulses confuse the brain, causing it to focus on the impulse instead of the pain signals from the nerves. It’s the same mechanism for relieving pain, as when you pinch yourself and then rub the spot to relieve the pain.
Candidates for Spinal Cord Stimulation
Patients who are candidates for SCS are given a trial treatment to determine how effective the device is in pain management. During the trial, temporary leads from the body are connected to an external device. The trial period typically lasts three to seven days to let the patient determine whether the device helps with pain management.
The trial is considered successful when there is pain relief of at least 50%, accompanied by an improvement in mobility and function. If the trial is successful, the temporary leads are removed, and a permanent device is implanted in about two to four weeks.
Following the implantation surgery, the doctor monitors the healing process and the device settings, in addition to the effectiveness of pain management. Most spinal cord stimulators need slight adjustments the first few weeks after implantation, but the settings are often stable thereafter.
Following the procedure, the patient may experience less back pain and may not require as much pain medicine. However, the treatment does not cure back pain, nor does it treat the source of the pain.
SCS treatment can be discontinued at any time, and the implanted device turned off and removed.
This video demonstrates how spinal cord stimulation works.
When Is Spinal Cord Stimulation Used?
Spinal cord stimulation is often recommended when other treatments have failed, when surgery is not likely to help, or when surgery has failed. Some of the neurological conditions in which SCS stimulation can be beneficial include:
- Inflammation of the arachnoid, one of three linings that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, stinging and burning pain in the lower back or legs, and muscle cramps. There is no cure for this condition, so the goal of treatment is to control pain and symptoms.
- Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). This nerve disorder causes intense burning pain, usually in the arms, hands, legs, or feet. It can occur after an injury, either to a nerve or to tissue in the affected area. The cause of CRPS is unknown, and there is no cure.
- Failed back syndrome (FBSS)or post-laminectomy syndrome (lumbar or cervical) is persistent or recurrent pain, mainly involving the lower back and/or legs, even after successful spinal surgery. Patients with FBSS often have epidural/ intraneural/perineural fibrosis or scar tissue, which generally will not respond to surgery but may respond to SCS.
- Nerve damage, neuropathy, or neuritis. Many conditions and diseases can cause the outer protective covering (myelin) of nerve cells to degenerate and cause nerve damage. The specific symptoms depend on the type of nerves involved. Some people may experience temporary numbness, tingling and pricking sensations, sensitivity to touch, or muscle weakness. Others may experience more extreme symptoms, such as burning pain (especially at night), muscle wasting, paralysis, or organ or gland dysfunction.
Spinal cord stimulation is a compelling treatment alternative for patients with chronic pain for whom conservative treatments have been ineffective. While SCS may not be effective for all types of pain or for every patient, spinal cord stimulation is a safe, drug-free and cost-effective treatment for many chronic pain conditions.
Novus Spine & Pain Center
Dr. Torres established Novus Spine & Pain Center in Lakeland, Florida with a goal of providing the highest quality pain management care to every patient. Whether pain is the result of an injury or from another condition, Dr. Torres offers many treatment options that include spinal cord stimulation.
Novus Spine & Pain Center utilizes a comprehensive approach and cutting-edge therapies to restore normal function and allow patients to regain an active lifestyle while minimizing the need for opiates. As our patient, you are our top priority. Our goal is to help you achieve the best possible quality of life.
Our Mission Statement: To provide the best quality of life to people suffering from pain, by providing state of the art treatments, knowledge and skill, compassion, and respect for all.
Spinal Cord Stimulation Resources
Spinal Cord Stimulation (Novus Spine & Pain Center)
Spinal Cord Stimulation (American Association of Neurological Surgeons)
Back Pain and Spinal Cord Stimulation (WebMD)
Spinal cord stimulation (Medline Plus – U.S. National Library of Medicine)
Spinal Cord Stimulation (Mayo Clinic)
These medical devices offer hope for treating chronic pain without opioids (CNBC)