Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) therapy helps mask pain signals before they can reach the brain. A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) device is implanted under the skin to deliver a low-voltage electrical current continuously to the nerve fibers of the spinal cord. Stimulation does not eliminate the source of the pain but blocks the sensation of pain by changing the way the brain perceives it. It is the most commonly used implantable neurostimulation technology for the management of pain syndromes.

How It Works

There are two parts to the procedure. First, with the help of fluoroscopy, electrode leads are inserted in the epidural space above the spinal cord using a small needle or through an incision. The location of the leads depends upon the specificity of the patients’ pain. Next, the SCS device generator is implanted in the abdominal or buttock area. When the electrical connection is turned on, pain is reduced because the electrical pulses modify and mask the pain signal from reaching your brain. The goal for SCS is a 50% to 70% reduction in pain, which can be significant.

Every SCS device system has three parts:
  1.  A pulse generator with a battery that creates electrical pulses
  2.  A lead wire with electrodes that deliver those pulses to the spinal cord
  3.  A hand-held remote control that turns the device on and off and controls the settings.

Conditions Treated

SCS has the potential to alleviate pain related for the following conditions:

  • Arachnoiditis: painful inflammation and scarring of the protective layers of the spinal nerves
  • Chronic leg or arm pain: ongoing, persistent pain caused by degenerative conditions that include arthritis, spinal stenosis, and nerve damage
  • Complex regional pain syndrome: a progressive disease of the nervous system that causes constant, chronic burning pain, typically in the foot or hand.
  • Failed back surgery syndrome: persistent or recurrent pain, mainly involving the lower back and/or legs, even after prior anatomically successful spinal surgery
  • Peripheral neuropathy: a constant burning sensation in the legs caused by dying nerves
  • Refractory angina: chest pain, shortness of breath and fatigue

Benefits of Treatment

The treatment benefits associated with SCS include:

  • Implantation is minimally invasive, requiring a minor surgical procedure on an outpatient basis.
  • The procedure is easily reversible. If the system is no longer needed, it can be removed.
  • The treatment has few side effects.
  • The pain relief that accompanies SCS can reduce or eliminate the need for narcotic drugs.
  • Because the system is entirely implanted, patients can travel anywhere and participate in many non-impact activities, including swimming.
  • Systems are self-programmable, so they can be re-programmed to respond to changes in the location or severity of pain.

Are You a Candidate?

You may be a candidate for SCS if:

  • You’ve had poor response to conservative treatment for a minimum of six months.
  • Surgery is not an option or would have a low chance of success.
  • Your pain is not associated with malignancy.
  • You don’t wear a pacemaker or have other medical contraindications.
  • You don’t have untreated depression or drug addiction.
  • You’ve had a successful SCS trial.*


*If you are assessed to be a candidate for SCS, a trial SCS can be done to make sure you have a good response to the stimulation before committing to a permanent implant.