What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
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Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a pain management technique which involves stimulating the spinal cord with small electrical impulses which are designed to interfere with pain signals sent along the spinal cord to the brain. Instead of experiencing pain, the patient is supposed to experience a mild tingling sensation. This method for pain management is usually recommended only when more conservative measures fail, as it can be risky for the patient and it is not always effective.

In spinal cord stimulation, a generator is implanted in the abdomen or buttocks, and connected to leads which connect with the area of the spine being stimulated. The patient can control the intensity and frequency of electrical impulses with a remote control, adjusting the level of stimulation as needed for pain. When it works, patients can experience tremendous relief from spinal cord stimulation, but the technique is not always effective.

Due to concerns about the effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation, patients are usually only considered after other measures such as nerve blocks and pain medication have failed. They are also given a trial run with a temporary implant first, so that they can see if they experience pain relief. If the trial is successful, the patient can make an appointment for surgery to receive a permanent implantation device.


The trial implant cannot be left in place, as it is designed for temporary use only. Over time, it can migrate, stimulating a different area of the body, which can be undesirable, and it can also expose the patient to an increased risk of infection and other complications. For this reason, if the trial device is not successful, it is important to remove it.

The surgery to insert the permanent medical device is invasive, and it carries some risks, including infection and scarring. Some patients develop incontinence, and the leads can also migrate in the body, which makes the stimulation less effective. Electromagnetic interference can cause the system to malfunction, which can sometimes be dangerous, and spinal cord stimulation is not recommended for people with cardiac pacemakers, because the two medical devices can interfere with each other.

This pain management technique can be used to manage chronic pain in a variety of areas of the back and body. Some patients like the option of spinal cord stimulation because it allows them to stop using pain management medications, which can become problematic for patients. Many patients develop a tolerance for such medications which makes them less effective over time, and they can also become addicted to them, experiencing health problems and social issues as a result of their addiction.



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Post 1

I am so glad to see that all the drawbacks of the spinal cord stimulator are discussed. I had the test version and got good relief, but when they implanted the permanent one, I got no relief at all. The doctor acted as if it were my fault that the permanent one did not work as well as the trial.

I was certainly frustrated with the failure, but the doctor's attitude was the most disappointing. Now I take a lot of pills and wear a Fentanyl patch and am overly cautious about trying anything else of a surgical nature.

Plus now I have to spend time finding a doctor with compassion for his/her patients. Not as easy as it

sounds because over the last nine years, I've met some incredibly pompous pain doctors who only like to pass out prescriptions without so much as anything resembling an exam. Thanks for your truthful, up-front information. Still holding on to hope, Terri

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