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Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) for Pain Relief


Spinal cord stimulation is a pain relieving treatment for chronic back pain.  Spinal cord stimulation can be useful for some people that have failed other forms of treatment.  The stimulator is a small device that is surgically placed beneath the skin.  It sends signals to the brain that block pain signals.  The spinal cord stimulator does not fix or treat the source of pain, but it provides enough pain relief for some people that they can participate in their favorite activities again. 


Spinal Cord Stimulation may help relieve chronic pain for people with:
• Pain lasting 6 months or more despite conventional treatments
• A successful Spinal Cord Stimulation Trial
Spinal Cord Stimulation may be appropriate for people with chronic pain from:
• Inflamed or scarred spinal nerve coverings (Arachnoiditis)
• Pain & burning sensation from peripheral nerve injury (Causalgia)
• Failed Back or Neck Surgery to relieve chronic pain
• Constant burning pain in legs from abnormal nerves (Peripheral Neuropathy)
• Constant burning pain from progressive nervous system disease (Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)

How Neurostimulation Works
Spinal Cord Stimulation does not correct or treat the source of pain.  Instead, the stimulator sends signals to the brain that obstruct pain signals.  The brain processes the signals from the stimulator making it difficult to recognize pain signals.

The Spinal Cord Stimulation Device
The spinal cord stimulation device is a small programmable generator.  Two thin soft wires extend from the generator.  The wires have electrical leads on their tips that release electrical signals to the spinal column.

Trial Period
You will participate in a trial period of the spinal cord stimulator to determine if it is an effective pain relief solution for you.  During a short outpatient procedure, the wires of the device are positioned under your skin.  You will carry the device on the outside of your body in a similar manner as a cell phone.  Your doctor will preset the device to deliver the best pain relief possible.
Implant Procedure
After having a successful trial period, a more permanent spinal cord stimulator system can be surgically positioned in an outpatient procedure.  The wires are positioned inside of the spine and over the spinal cord to target painful areas.  The generator is surgically placed under the skin. 
The wires and generator are connected.  The system is battery powered.  The batteries will need to be recharged or replaced every few years. 
Your doctor will program your spinal cord stimulator with a remote control.  You can learn how to use the remote control to program your device.  By controlling the device by yourself, you can turn it on or off and adjust the stimulation according to your desired level of pain relief.

Most people experience a 50% to 70% reduction in pain and are able to participate in their regular daily activities.  However, spinal cord stimulation may not work for everyone. 
Advantages of Neurostimulation
The advantages of using spinal cord stimulation include:
• There is a trial period
• The treatment can be discontinued at any time
• Reduces or eliminates the need for pain medication
• The device is adjustable for varying levels of pain
• Improves quality of life

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit