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Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS) – What Is It And When Is It Indicated

Spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is an FDA approved treatment method to relieve chronic trunk (back) and limb pain as well as pain due to peripheral neuropathy and complex regional pain syndrome. Think of SCS as a pacemaker for pain. Chronic pain is pain that lasts beyond the usual recovery period or that is associated with a chronic health condition. Because this pain is neither protective nor the result of an injury, it is treated as a condition, as opposed to a symptom. Chronic pain can keep individuals from working, participating in daily activities, eating regularly and doing the things that they enjoy. 

How Spinal Cord Stimulator Works 

For patients that opt to try this treatment, they start with a spinal cord stimulator trial. During this procedure, a doctor inserts tiny wire leads into the epidural space. Electrodes at the end of the wire leads then intercept pain signals before they reach the brain. These signals are changed so that the perception of pain is dulled. This is known as neuromodulation. 

SCS does not eliminate pain or its source, but rather it changes the way that the brain perceives it. While results vary from patient to patient, this type of treatment often reduces pain by 50% or more. 

Spinal Cord Stimulator Implantation

Initially, an external trial stimulator is used to see if the patient is a candidate for the implant. Think of the SCS trial as a test drive. If significant pain relief is obtained during the trial a permanent spinal cord stimulator implant might be the next step. A permanent implantable pulse generator (IPG) enables a patient to use SCS to manage and treat their pain. During the SCS implant two wire leads are placed in the epidural space and an IPG is implanted in the flank or the buttocks. This procedure is done under anesthesia. 

There are two primary types of SCS. Low-frequency stimulation, which is the traditional method, uses low frequency signals to mask pain with paresthesias. A paresthesia is a tingling and  vibrating sensation. In contrast, high-frequency stimulation delivers pulses at a higher frequency with the goal of providing pain relief without the use of paresthesias. 

When to Consider Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation is a minimally-invasive procedure that effectively provides pain relief for many patients suffering from chronic trunk or limb pain, peripheral neuropathy or complex regional pain syndrome. Unlike surgery a SCS trial provides chronic-pain sufferers a relatively easy way to try or “test-drive” a treatment before moving forward with the minimally invasive SCS implant. For those suffering from chronic neck or back pain, failed back surgery syndrome, sciatica, spinal stenosis or complex regional pain syndrome, SCS can be a good option to help relieve pain and improve quality of life. 
If you are suffering from chronic pain, call us today to schedule an appointment. We’ll conduct a full exam to determine whether or not you’d benefit from Spinal Cord Stimulation and will put together a comprehensive treatment plan to help relieve your pain and get you back to the everyday activities that you enjoy.

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