A spinal cord stimulator transmits electrical signals directly to the spinal cord, primarily for the purpose of controlling chronic pain. The insertion of an spinal cord stimulator is a surgical procedure that requires a trial period to achieve satisfactory results. Physicians was often use this device to treat failed back surgery syndrome, although other conditions that cause back pain may also be suitable for treatment with SCS.
An SCS primarily consists of a set of electrodes and a generator. The generator produces electrical pulses that are transmitted to the electrodes through conducting wires. The surgeon places the tips of the electrodes into the epidural space of the spinal canal and adjusts the electrical pulses with a set of controls. The trial period lasts for 5 to 7 days, after which the physician will secure the electrodes to interspinal ligaments.
Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS) is the most common use of SCS in the United States, primarily due to the persistent pain in the lower back and legs that is common in FBSS. Ischemic limb pain caused by an inoperable condition is also a popular use of SCS in Europe. Physicians may use SCS to relieve the pain caused by frequent migraines, and this procedure also stimulates the release of norepinephrine in cases of angina pectoris.
The specific results of spinal cord stimulator depend on factors such as patient selection, surgical technique, postoperative testing and patient education. SCS shows good to excellent results in the long-term relief of chronic pain in 40 to 70 percent of patients. A study published in a 2005 issue of Clinical Neuroscience reported that 24 percent of patients were able to attain gainful employment or perform housework after treatment with SCS. Some of the patients in this study also received pain medication in addition to treatment with SCS.
SCS carries the risks that are common to all surgery such as adverse reactions to anesthesia, infections and bleeding. The complications that are specific to SCS primarily include unpleasant sensations from the SCS pulses. These sensations have a variety of causes such as loose connections, changes in an electrode's position and changes in the tissue surrounding the electrodes. A misplacement of the electrodes when they are inserted can cause more severe complications such as compression of the spinal cord and paralysis.