Spinal Cord Stimulation

What is Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS?)

Overview of Spinal Cord Stimulation
Spinal cord stimulation is a therapy that masks pain signals before they reach the brain. A small device, similar to a pacemaker, is implanted in the body to deliver electrical pulses to the spinal cord. It helps people better manage their chronic pain symptoms and decrease the use of opioid medications. It may be an option if you suffer chronic back, leg or arm pain and have not found relief with other therapies.

What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) device is surgically placed under your skin and sends a mild electric current to your spinal cord (Fig. 1). The spinal cord device consists of a pulse generator, a small wire that carries the current from a pulse generator to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. When turned on, the SCS stimulates the nerves in the area where your pain is felt. Pain is reduced when the electrical pulses modify and mask the pain signal from reaching your brain.

Who is a candidate for Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)?

Patients who are selected for Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) usually have had chronic debilitating pain for several months in the lower back, leg, or arm. Other therapies have not worked well enough for these patients. They also often have had one or more spinal surgeries.
An evaluation of your physical condition, medication regime, and pain history by a doctor will determine whether your goals of pain management are appropriate for Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS). A neurosurgeon, physiatrist, or pain specialist will review all previous treatments and surgeries. There may be exclusion factors for SCS or risk factors that you doctor will consider and discuss with you.

An SCS can help lessen chronic pain caused by:

  • Chronic leg (sciatica) or arm pain: ongoing, persistent pain caused by arthritis, spinal stenosis, or by nerve damage.
  • Failed back surgery syndrome: failure of one or more surgeries to relieve persistent arm or leg pain, but not a technical failure of the original procedure.
  • Complex regional pain syndrome: a progressive disease in which patients feel constant, chronic burning pain, typically in the foot or hand.
  • Arachnoiditis: painful inflammation and scarring of the protective lining of the spinal nerves.
  • Other: stump pain, angina, peripheral vascular disease, multiple sclerosis, or spinal cord injury.

Stimulation does not eliminate the source of pain, instead it interferes with the pain signal reaching the brain, which is where you feel pain. The amount of pain relief varies for each person. Spinal Cord Stimulation may produce a tingling sensation, usually over the part of the body that hurts.

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