What is Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)?

If conservative treatment options and other spine surgeries have failed to provide pain relief, you may be a candidate for spinal cord stimulation. Spinal cord stimulation is a treatment for chronic back or leg pain. A spinal cord stimulator, which is surgically implanted underneath the skin (subcutaneously), can deliver electrical pulses to the area of pain. These pulses will reach the brain before the pain signals can, so instead of pain, you will experience a tingling sensation.

To determine if spinal cord stimulation may benefit you, you will first undergo a trial period. During this period, a temporary electrode lead is placed subcutaneously above the spinal cord, and it is connected to an external stimulator that you will carry with you. The procedure is typically completed within an hour, and you may return home the same day. After a few days or weeks, the trial stimulator will be assessed for effectiveness. If the trial is unsuccessful, you may undergo a second trial period, or the leads will be removed, and other treatment options will be considered. If, instead, your pain is relieved during the trial, you will undergo surgery for implantation of a permanent stimulator and leads.

The components of a spinal cord stimulation system include the stimulator, the leads, and the wire that connects the two. Implantation of permanent leads may be percutaneous (through the skin) or involve a surgical incision. The spinal cord stimulator is implanted subcutaneously in the abdomen or buttock. The stimulator is battery-powered and may be rechargeable. If the battery is not rechargeable, it will last around 2-5 years, and you will need surgery to replace it. Your doctor will program the neurostimulator following your procedure.

After spinal cord stimulator surgery, you may be released from the hospital the same day or the next one. In the weeks following your operation, you will need to work with your doctor to find the optimal settings for your neurostimulator. Activities such as driving, twisting, bending, raising your arms, sleeping on your stomach, or lifting heavy objects should be limited.

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