Pain Treatment Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a medical procedure that uses electrical impulses to treat people suffering from chronic pain in their back and abdomen areas. During SCS, the doctor makes a small incision into the patient’s back in which he implants a small pulse generator.

Theoretically, this implanted generator interferes with the nerve impulses that are causing the patient pain. Instead of feeling pain, most people feel a small, pleasurable tingling sensation in the affected area.

SCS: Before The Procedure

Before the implantation surgery, doctors will first perform thorough physical examinations on patients. They will make sure that candidates are in good physical health, don’t have pacemakers and have already undergone surgery for their conditions.

Once patients have passed this initial round of the consultation, doctors then have to make sure that the SCS implant will actually alleviate the pain in patients. To do this, doctors will perform a short-term trial that can last anywhere from 24 hours to several weeks. In this trial, the doctor implants a temporary stimulator under the skin at the designated area and monitors whether or not it reduces the Spinal cord stimulation is effective at treating a number of medical conditions that cause patients severe chronic pain.

These include patients who:

  • are paraplegic
  • have had a failed spinal surgery
  • have multiple sclerosis
  • have severe nerve pain (i.e., sciatica, spinal cord inflammation or scar tissue on the spinal cord)
  • suffer from arm, back and/or leg pain (This pain can be in either or both limbs.)
  • suffer from chronic pain syndromes (i.e., reflex sympathetic dystrophy)
  • suffer from intractable angina.

The success of spinal cord stimulation depends on a number of factors, including the actual cause of pain and whether or not the patient has had prior surgery for this condition. However, most people report that SCS reduces their chronic pain by at least 50 percent.

Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation

The primary advantage of spinal cord stimulation revolves around providing patients relief from or a reduction of their chronic back and abdomen pain. As a result, patients find that they:

  • are able to resume work activities
  • can engage in recreational activities they previously enjoyed
  • have a better attitude because they are not experiencing the level of pain before the surgery.

Those experiencing chronic pain in their backs and/or abdomens should consult their doctors to determine whether or not they are good candidates for SCS. Doctors can help you weigh the risks and benefits of this procedure.

Side Effects of SCS

Like any invasive medical procedure, spinal cord stimulation does have possible side effects. Some of the side effects include:

  • bladder problems
  • gradual loss of effectiveness over time
  • hardware failure or breakage
  • headaches
  • infection
  • pain that moves beyond the reach of the stimulator
  • scar tissue formation around the electrode
  • spinal fluid leakage
  • stimulation in the wrong location.

Keep in mind, however, that side effects are extremely rare, and doctors can generally take the proper precautions to avoid them. For most cases, the benefit of relief from severe, chronic pain outweighs the possible side effects that could occur.


NeuroCare Network (2003). Spinal Cord Stimulator. Retrieved August 30, 2007, from the NeuroCare Network Web site: