Spinal Cord Stimulation uses a small implanted pulse generator, called a stimulator, and thin wires called leads or electrodes. The stimulator delivers pulses of mild electric current through the leads to parts of your spinal cord. These impulses mask pain signals traveling to the brain through the spinal cord. If the pain signals don't reach the brain, you don't feel them. This therapeutic mechanism is often called “gate control” since the spinal cord stimulation blocks the pain signals from reaching the brain. Some types of spinal cord stimulation replace the pain with a mild tingling sensation called “parathesis” while other spinal cord stimulation systems don't feel like anything. Pain relief can be almost instant or can build up over time.
Does Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) really work for pain?
Clinical trials have shown that Spinal Cord Stimulation can reduce pain. One clinical trial reported that that spinal cord stimulation led to a large pain relief in 50-70% of well-selected patients. It is clear that for some people, SCS provides life-changing reduction in chronic pain. The FDA has approved Spinal Cord Stimulation therapy for pain. But, like any medical therapy, SCS will not work for everyone.
How common is SCS for Chronic Pain? Is SCS safe?
Around the world, about 14,000 patients undergo spinal cord stimulator implants each year. Some hundreds of thousands of people worldwide now have a spinal cord stimulator. SCS devices have been FDA approved for pain since 1985. Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) would be considered “routine” by many physicians with providers in almost every region. There are potential risks involved with any procedure. Be sure to talk with your doctor about these risks.
The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Medically reviewed by Corey W Hunter, MD, FIPP - Ainsworth Institute of Pain Management and Mt Sinai Hospital
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