Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a type of electrotherapy approved by the Food and  Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for certain types of chronic pain. The therapy involves applying very small amounts of electricity directly to selected nerves or anatomic structures. The electricity triggers a neurological response that interferes with the transmission of unwanted pain signals to the brain.  

SCS involves the stimulation of nerves in the spinal cord by placing electrodes in the space above the spinal cord (epidural space). Spinal cord stimulation is sometimes referred to by its older name, dorsal column stimulation. Spinal cord stimulation is indicated for the treatment of chronic pain of the trunk and/or limbs.  

Spinal cord stimulators consist of three components designed to work together as a  system: a power source, electrode leads, and an external controller. The power source generates electrical pulses, which are carried to electrodes at the end of the lead inserted into the epidural space. The external controller allows the doctor to  “program” the power source to generate pulses customized for the individual receiving the therapy.  

A relatively short noninvasive surgical procedure is required to place the electrodes in the space above the spinal column (epidural space). When the power source is turned on, the electrodes will stimulate the nerves that are associated with the areas of the body affected by pain. For many people, this stimulation of the targeted nerves effectively changes pain messages, and some patients describe the feeling that replaces the pain as a tingling sensation called paresthesia. For many patients,  paresthesia is much more pleasant than the pain. In this case, spinal cord stimulation is a good option. However, for some patients, paresthesia is not a pleasant sensation.  A temporary, or trial stimulator, is normally inserted for one week to determine a  patient’s response to spinal cord stimulation.  

Typically, SCS is performed after less invasive treatment options such as medications, physical therapy, epidural steroid injections or nerve blocks have been attempted. Your physician will be able to evaluate whether SCS is a potential treatment option for your specific condition.