Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a treatment used in the management of chronic, intractable pain of the back and/or legs. This technology has been available and approved in the US since 1984. When conservative treatment or surgeries have failed, or one is not a surgical candidate, spinal cord stimulation is an option. Common diagnosis for which SCS has been proven useful include:
Failed Back Syndrome (FBS) –persistent pain despite surgical treatment
Chronic leg pain from radiculopathy (irritated or damaged nerve) from herniated disc, spinal stenosis
Degenerative Disk Disease (DDD)/herniated disk pain refractory to conservative and surgical
Epidural fibrosis or arachnoiditis – scar tissue surrounding spinal nerves
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS), Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD), or causalgia
SCS works by blocking pain signals before they reach the brain. To do this, a stimulator implanted along the spinal cord sends pulses that interfere with pain signals travelling to the brain and thereby “cancelling out” the pain. There are different kinds of stimulators—some produce a tingling or buzzing sensation which the patient can adjust to deliver the preferred sensation and pain relief. Another kind provides stimulation without additional sensations.
Prior to implanting a permanent stimulator, a trial is performed. During the trial, the leads are placed along the spinal cord and the battery is securely taped on your skin for about a week. This allows the patient to trial the system and assess efficacy and decide whether they want to proceed with permanent implantation. At the time of a permanent implant, the battery and all connecting wires are placed under the skin, much like a pacemaker. You will have control over the intensity and types of stimulation received.