What is a Spinal Cord Stimulator?
A spinal cord stimulator, often referred to as SCS, is an approach to treat chronic pain in the spinal nerves, or nerves located in the spinal cord, with the use of neuromodulation. Spinal cord stimulators deliver mild electrical stimulation to nerves along the spine.
What Does it Treat?
Spinal cord stimulators treat pain originating and passing through the spinal cord. Spinal cord stimulators send electrical signals to interrupt the pain signals being sent to the brain, alleviating pain. A remote control will allow patients and physicians to adjust the stimulation, allowing for customization of relief.
How Does the Procedure Work?
A trial stimulator is used prior to implementation of a permanent device. For the trial procedure, the patient will lie on their stomach. A small incision will be made in the lower back. Using a small needle, temporary leads are inserted through the incision, into the epidural space of the spine. The leads are connected to an external pulse generator and battery that is adhered to the skin. The patient will be monitored for 5 to 7 days by a device representative, verifying if the device is effective or not. Once the trial period ends, the leads are removed in the medical office, and the incision is closed. If the patient has seen pain relief of 50% or more, they can proceed with a spinal cord stimulator implant.
For the permanent implant procedure, the patient will lie on their stomach. A small incision will be made in the lower back. Using a small needle, leads are inserted through the incision, into the epidural space of the spine. Another incision is made in the buttocks or abdomen, creating an opening where the pulse generator will rest. The leads are pulled through the second incision and connected to the pulse generator. The pulse generator is carefully inserted into the opening in the buttocks or abdomen, and both incisions are closed by the surgeon. The patient is monitored in a recovery room before being released. The patient will need someone to drive them home following the procedure. Patients may experience initial discomfort, and most patients may return to their normal routine within 1 week, however any activity that can strain the spine, such as lifting heavy objects, should be avoided for up to 6 weeks.
There are 4 spinal cord stimulator manufacturers currently available:
For more information on spinal cord stimulators made by Medtronic, visit their website at
For more information on spinal cord stimulators made by Boston Scientific, visit their website at
For more information on spinal cord stimulators made by Nevro Corp, visit their website at
For more information on spinal cord stimulators made by Abbott, visit their website at
What are the Risks?
Although the complication rate for spinal cord stimulator procedures is low, all surgical procedures have risk of infection, and procedures that uses general or local anesthesia have risks of anesthetic complications. The spinal cord stimulator procedure is considered to be low risk, however complications including device malfunction, and a lead moving or becoming blocked, can occur. The spinal cord stimulator procedure is a minimally-invasive procedure, which has substantially lower risk of complications, including infection, when compared to open surgery. A battery replacement will be necessary every 5 to 10 years, depending on frequency of use, and the device used.
Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulators
Spinal cord stimulators offer customizable pain relief by changing how the patient’s brain perceives pain signals. By reducing the pain levels of patients, spinal cord stimulators are able to reduce, or completely eliminate, pain medications needed by patients. Additionally, spinal cord stimulators are a fully reversible procedure; they can be removed at any time.