What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Spinal Cord Stimulator
Spinal Cord Stimulator

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a minimally invasive option for patients with chronic pain that have not been relieved by conventional medical management or other treatment approaches. SCS is a safe and effective treatment method which was first used in 1967, and is a reversible method of managing chronic pain that has been given to over 350,0001 patients worldwide.

How does spinal cord stimulation work?
The technique involves implanting a battery-powered device (about the size of a pocket watch) often called an implantable pulse generator (IPG) under the skin usually in the abdomen, upper buttocks or below the collarbone. The IPG is connected to a lead(s) that stimulates the nerve fibres in the spinal cord to reduce pain signals. This action creates a tingling sensation called paraesthesia. It can be used to treat patients with more than one pain area including patients with back or neuropathic pain.2

Clinical indications for SCS Therapy

Common clinical indications for SCS therapy include:

Failed Back (Surgery) Syndrome (FBSS): an umbrella term that describes residual pain that persists despite multiple spine surgeries or other interventions – such as spinal manipulation or nerve blocks – to reduce back and leg pain or repair neurological deficits.

Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS): a syndrome of various symptoms, most often caused by trauma, including burning pain, hyperaesthesia (increased sensitivity of any of the sense organs, especially the skin to cold, heat, pain, etc.), swelling, hyperhidrosis (excessive and profuse perspiration), and trophic changes in the skin and bone of the affected areas. Peripheral nerve stimulation may also be indicated for treatment.

Peripheral Neuropathy: any disease/disorder of the peripheral nerves.

Frequently Asked Questions:

FAQ #1 – Can I “trial” SCS first?
Patients typically have the opportunity to trial the SCS system before having the surgical implant. Using a temporary, non-implanted (external) system for about one week, the patient has the opportunity to determine whether the SCS system fits their pain needs and lifestyle.

FAQ #2 – Is SCS reversible?
Even though your leads are surgically implanted, they can be disconnected or removed by your doctor, as needed.

FAQ #3 – Can medications work with SCS?
SCS can be used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals, if necessary. For some patients, SCS works well enough that pain medications are no longer needed. For others, it can mean a reduction in the amount of pain medication they need.

FAQ #4 – Will I be totally pain-free with SCS?
People differ in the amount of pain relief they receive with SCS therapy. Many people experience a reduction in pain sensations. The trial procedure will help you determine the amount of relief you may receive.

Are all SCS devices the same?
SCS systems are available with re-chargeable and non-rechargeable batteries and thus the life of the stimulator will be dependent on the type of battery implanted and the device settings used. A rechargeable (RC) device is charged by the sufferer at home. RC systems have a battery life of 10-25 years3. In contrast, patients using a conventional non-rechargeable battery can expect it to last between 2.5 to 4.5 years4 following which it may need to be replaced.

Rechargeable SCS systems may have substantially greater capabilities compared to non-rechargeable battery-powered systems with respect to clinical benefits. These clinical benefits include extending therapeutic longevity and avoiding frequent replacement surgeries and complications that may arise from these repeated surgeries. Your doctor will decide if SCS is suitable for you and which device is most appropriate.

SCS Therapy has seen great advances throughout the decades. In over 35 years of use it has been proven to be a safe and effective therapy option for patients with chronic neuropathic pain.

It is generally considered successful if your pain is reduced by 50%, if you are able to get back to your daily activities, if your need for pain medication is reduced and/or if you’re able to relax and sleep better.

For further information call 727-791-7300 today and see whether spinal cord stimulation can help you manage your chronic pain.

  1. Medtronic. About Chronic Pain. http://www.medtronic.com/patients/chronic-pain/about/index.html Accessed April 2012.
  2. North RB, Wetzel FT. Spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain of spinal origin: a valuable long-term solution. Spine. 2002;27:2584-2591.
  3. Hornberger et al. Rechargeable Spinal Cord Stimulation Versus Nonrechargeable System for Patients With Failed Back Surgery Syndrome: A Cost-Consequences AnalysisClin J Pain 2008;24:244-252
  4. Eldridge et al. The Role of Rechargeable Systems in Neuromodulation. European Neurological Review 2011;6:3:187-192

Read the full story The Painful Truth from Boston Scientific’s Case Study



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