Spinal Cord Stimulation as Alternative Pain Treatment


Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an alternative pain treatment. Patients report a significant reduction in pain, anywhere from 50 to 85 percent pain reduction. Candidates for this minimally invasive procedure include those with back pain, neuropathies, and complex pain syndromes. Pain management specialists routinely utilize the treatments for people with pain who are not candidates for surgery.

SCS has been used in medical settings and for pain management since the 1960s. New generation devices more effectively modulate the pain signals sent from the affected site to the brain. A device, that people call a pain pacemaker, is implanted in the patient’s back. It emits a mild electrical current, targeting the spinal column and its network of nerves.

These artificial pulses disrupt the natural pulses of the nervous system, effectively supplying white noise to the pain environment. The patient may feel a mild anesthetic effect or a tingling sensation. The device also comes with a remote control so the patient can self-medicate with the electrical current.

Clinicians evaluate prospective patients before the procedure to select those that are likely to benefit. The procedure begins with a trial, where local anesthesia is used to insert a hollow needle (leads) into the area around the spinal canal called the epidural space. The leads are then connected to an exterior pulse generator where settings are modified over a 3 to 5 day trial period to optimize results for the patient. If the patient feels better from the stimulation, the patient has an option to proceed to permanent implantation surgery. Good outcomes include being able to cut down on pain medications, being able to sleep better, and a better mood.

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