What Is Spinal Cord Stimulation: Is it Right For You?

in Pain Management Treatments / April 28th, 2023

Injuries, accidents, and diseases can cause long-term or severe pain and disrupt your quality of life. When non-surgical pain treatment fails to provide relief, you may consider spinal cord stimulation {SCS}. This FDA-approved procedure involves implanting devices that provide mild electrical stimulation to spinal nerves, minimizing spinal nerve transmission of pain sensations to the brain.

SCS is not considered a person's first treatment option. Although SCS can reduce pain and improve the quality of life for many people, there are many preliminary hurdles to jump through, such as undergoing physical and psychological assessments to ensure you are healthy enough for the procedure.

How Spinal Cord Stimulation Reduces Pain

SCS devices are usually implanted by physicians with highly specialized training in interventional pain management under X-ray and/or ultrasound guidance. The spinal cord stimulator is similar to a cardiac pacemaker, and is often referred to as a “pacemaker for pain.” The device has thin wires (electrodes) that are implanted between the spinal cord and the vertebrae, and a small battery pack (generator), which is placed under the skin, usually near the buttocks or abdomen. Patients get an external remote control, allowing them to send electrical impulses when they feel pain.

SCS replaces pain sensation, usually with paresthesia (light tingling), although newer devices offer “sub-perception” stimulation that alleviates paresthesia. While experts don’t fully understand how SCS works, they believe it may target multiple muscle groups directly from the spine, while changing how the brain senses pain.

Benefits and Effectiveness

Research shows that 50%-60% of people using older, low-frequency devices achieved pain relief, while as many as 80% or more study participants achieved major relief when using newer, high-frequency systems, such as SCS. Potential benefits of SCS include:

  • Management of pain that persists regardless of other treatment modalities (e.g., medication)
  • Alleviation of pain from various origins, such as nerve, spine, or back pain
  • A reduction in the dosage and frequency of opioid-based medications needed to control pain
  • Effective as a pre-operative pain management modality


Risks and side effects of SCS depend on the device type and the location of the implantation and may include:

  • Risk of infection
  • Risk of the leads breaking, malfunctioning, causing injuries, or moving out of position
  • Tingling or numbness sensation
  • Gradual loss of pain relief

Who Benefits From SCS?

SCS was first used to treat pain in 1968 and approved by the FDA in 1989 to relieve pain from nerve damage in the trunk, arms, or legs. SCS has become increasingly popular in treating pain in the elderly population, as well as for diseases such as cerebral palsy and traumatic brain injuries. SCS is often used with other pain management treatments, including medications and physical therapy. Common uses of SCS include:

Consider Spinal Cord Stimulation For Pain Relief

Spinal cord stimulation may offer relief from chronic pain after non-surgical options have failed. If you’re considering SCS, schedule a consultation with the interventional pain management doctors and physical therapists at The Spine & Sports Health Center. Schedule an appointment at one of our Hoboken, Jersey City, or Bayonne, NJ locations.

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