Spinal Cord Stimulation

Living with chronic pain can significantly impact one’s quality of life, often leading to frustration and limited mobility. Fortunately, advancements in medical technology have introduced innovative solutions to manage chronic pain. One such breakthrough is spinal cord stimulation (SCS), a remarkable therapy that offers hope for individuals seeking relief from persistent pain. In this article, we will explore what spinal cord stimulation is and how it can help alleviate chronic pain, providing a simplified explanation for the layperson.

Understanding Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation involves the use of a small device to deliver mild electrical pulses to the spinal cord, altering the perception of pain signals sent to the brain. It works on the principle of “gate control theory,” where the electrical stimulation essentially closes the “gate” through which pain signals pass, reducing their impact on the brain and providing pain relief.

How is the Spinal Cord Stimulation Procedure Performed?

The first step in spinal cord stimulation is a trial period, during which a temporary electrode or leads are placed near the spinal cord’s targeted area. This is typically done through a minimally invasive procedure, often under local anesthesia. The leads are connected to an external generator, which the patient can control to adjust the level of stimulation. This trial phase allows individuals to assess the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation in managing their pain before moving forward with a permanent implant.

For those who experience significant pain relief during the trial, a permanent implantation procedure may be recommended. This involves placing a small generator device under the skin, typically in the abdominal or buttock region. The leads are then implanted near the spinal cord, and the generator is connected to the leads. Once implanted, the device can be programmed and adjusted by a healthcare professional to provide customized pain management.

Who is a Potential Candidate?

Spinal cord stimulation is primarily used for chronic pain conditions that have not responded to conventional treatments such as medications, physical therapy, or surgery. It is particularly effective in managing neuropathic pain, which originates from damaged nerves. Conditions like failed back surgery syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome, and neuropathic leg pain can often be effectively treated with SCS.

What are the Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation?

One of the significant advantages of spinal cord stimulation is that it allows individuals to manage their pain without relying heavily on medications, which may carry side effects and limitations. SCS can potentially reduce pain severity, improve physical functioning, and enhance overall quality of life for suitable candidates.

The primary benefit of spinal cord stimulation is the alleviation of chronic pain. It can be effective in reducing or eliminating pain caused by conditions such as failed back surgery syndrome, complex regional pain syndrome, neuropathic pain, and other forms of chronic pain.

Spinal cord stimulation is considered a non-invasive or minimally invasive treatment option compared to more invasive surgical procedures. It involves the implantation of a small device called a spinal cord stimulator (SCS), which is typically placed under the skin in the back or abdomen. The procedure is reversible, and the device can be adjusted or removed if necessary.

SCS allows for individualized therapy based on the patient’s specific pain patterns and needs. The device can be programmed to deliver electrical pulses at different frequencies, intensities, and locations along the spinal cord. This customization enables healthcare providers to tailor the therapy to each patient and optimize pain relief.

Spinal cord stimulation may help reduce the need for pain medications, including opioids. By providing pain relief, SCS can potentially allow patients to decrease their reliance on medication, which can have numerous benefits, such as minimizing side effects, reducing the risk of dependence, and improving overall quality of life.

Chronic pain can significantly impact a person’s daily activities, mobility, and overall well-being. By effectively managing pain, spinal cord stimulation can help patients regain function, engage in physical activities, and improve their quality of life. It may allow individuals to return to work, participate in hobbies, and enjoy social interactions more comfortably.

Spinal cord stimulation is a reversible procedure. If a patient does not experience sufficient pain relief or wishes to discontinue treatment, the device can be removed. Additionally, the therapy can be adjusted over time to address changes in pain patterns or the patient’s condition.

Spinal cord stimulation offers a ray of hope for individuals living with chronic pain who have exhausted other treatment options. By utilizing mild electrical pulses to modify pain signals before they reach the brain, this innovative therapy can provide significant relief and restore a sense of normalcy. While not suitable for everyone, spinal cord stimulation has proven effective for many individuals, enabling them to regain control over their lives and experience newfound freedom from persistent pain. If you suffer from chronic pain that hasn’t responded to other treatments, consult with a healthcare professional to explore the potential benefits of spinal cord stimulation for your specific condition.

Dr Abrams explaining spine x-ray Dr. Abrams laughing

Schedule an Appointment with DISC and Get Back to Living

If you are seeking a second opinion or looking to travel for a less invasive surgery, our orthopedic spine specialists in Phoenix are available to help you get an accurate spine diagnosis and customize an innovative treatment plan to get back to enjoying life. Schedule an appointment with one of our compassionate expert spine surgeons today. 


Our spine health blog features up-to-date spine education and expert spine tips from our spine specialists here at DISC.

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