Spinal cord stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation can help reduce chronic back pain. Good candidates include patients who have had a failed spinal surgery, severe nerve-related damage or numbness, or chronic pain syndrome. We consider spinal cord stimulation a success if it reduces your pain by 50 percent or more. It probably won't eliminate all of your pain, but it can help you live a more comfortable, active life. Instead of pain, you might feel a tingling or warm sensation. You would need to be examined and have your medical history reviewed to determine if you might benefit from spinal cord stimulation. You'll also participate in a three-to-seven-day trial first to help decide if spinal cord stimulation is right for you. In the trial, coated wire leads are placed through your skin into the area of the spine causing the problem, and you have a battery-operated remote control to activate the wires. If the trial is successful, a more permanent surgical implantation of the wires and control will be scheduled.

How does it work?

Pain is an electrical signal that travels along nerve fibers through the spinal cord to the brain. PeaceHealth Southwest's pain specialists use the Precision Plus System to mask these pain signals. The system delivers tiny doses of electricity to change the pain signal into something your brain interprets as a pleasant sensation called paresthesia. Patients describe paresthesia as feeling like a gentle tingling or massage.

The graphic on the right shows you how spinal cord stimulation works:
  1. Pain signals travel along the spinal cord toward the brain.
  2. A small rechargeable implantable pulse generator (IPG) produces tiny electrical impulses.
    The impulses travel along one or two small wires called leads, which are attached to the implant. Each lead has tightly spaced electrode contacts.
  3. Electrode contacts deliver electrical impulses to a specific location on the spinal cord to mask the pain signals.
  4. The masked signals then travel to the brain where they are often perceived (felt) as tingling sensations (paresthesia), and the feeling of pain is reduced.

Am I a good candidate?

Spinal cord stimulation can help reduce chronic back pain. Good candidates include people with failed back surgeries, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), phantom limb, sciatic nerve and other types of neuropathic or nerve-related pain have had great success with spinal cord stimulation.

The cause of your pain may be due to injury or disease, however, the cause of pain is not what will determine if spinal cord stimulation is right for you. As part of determining whether you area good candidate for spinal cord stimulation, your Southwest pain specialist will assess:
  • the type of pain you experience
  • how severe your pain is
  • where your pain is located
Based on the evaluation, the pain specialist can help you decide if spinal cord stimulation may be able to relieve address your pain symptoms.

"Test drive" and long-term therapy

Is there a way to test if it will work for me?
How is long-term therapy different than the trial?