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Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)

    What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?

    SCS is a branch of neuromodulation. It is a minimally invasive procedure that involves positioning electrodes on the spinal cord to control and manage pain signals.

    How it Works

    Spinal cord stimulation is a two-stage process. The effect of spinal cord stimulation and the level of pain relief varies from patient to patient. Hence, it is important to check how your pain responds to SCS before our best pain specialist implants the device permanently.

    • Trial Version
    • Permanent Implant

    Trial Version

    First, the spinal cord stimulator is implanted on a trial basis to test its suitability for the patient. A trial phase is necessary since all patients have different conditions and different levels of pain. The stimulation may be unsuitable for a specific patient and suitable for others. A trial period is usually a week, but it may be less or more, depending on the condition. This is enough time to evaluate its effectiveness both when you rest and while active.

    Permanent Implant

    In this phase, your doctor will implant the device permanently after the trial period is over. Your doctor will perform the permanent implantation only if the patient has experienced a reduction in pain by at least 50% during the trial period. Your doctor will implant a device around the size of a watch face under the skin. It is implanted either in the upper buttock or abdominal area.

    Furthermore, spinal cord stimulation can be an ideal treatment plan when medications and other pain-relieving therapies fail to dispel pain symptoms. Your doctor will recommend this treatment if you experience:

    • Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS)
    • Chronic pain in the neck, back or legs
    • Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
    • Diabetic Neuropathy

    Spinal cord stimulation is performed after giving controlled anesthesia to the patient while they are conscious. The patient is usually awake during the procedure. It helps to test the electrodes and to know they are in the right place.

    The patient can go home once the procedure is finished and the programming is complete.

    Conditions Treated with Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery

    Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS)Most of the time, spinal cord stimulation therapy is often advised if conservative treatment options have not worked. On the contrary, if you’re pregnant or have a pacemaker, you may not be eligible for this treatment.

    However, if you have any of the following conditions, there’s a chance you could be referred for spinal cord stimulator surgery:

    • Pain from an amputation
    • Lumbar radiculopathy
    • Sciatica
    • Spinal cord injuries
    • Refractory angina
    • Cancer-related pain
    • Perineal pain
    • Chronic post-hernia repair pain
    • Chronic visceral abdominal pain
    • Myelopathy
    • Peripheral neuropathy caused by diabetes
    • Degenerative disc disease
    • Spinal tumors
    • Chronic post-hernia repair pain
    • Peripheral vascular disease

    If you have any of these conditions, book a consultation to see us. With five centrally located pain clinics in Wisconsin, our pain management specialists will connect you to transformative treatments for your spine.

    Types of Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery

    With spinal cord stimulation therapy, there are three main types you could potentially undergo based on your condition and symptoms. All surgeries differ by offering a different lifespan of the device and stimulation intensity.

    Based on what you’re referred for, you could have a:

    • Conventional implantable pulse generator: A battery-powered stimulator that emits mild electrical impulses. Once these impulses stop, you must undergo another surgery to replace the battery. It can last for 3-5 years.
    • A rechargeable implantable pulse generator: This stimulator emits stronger and higher impulses from a battery-operated stimulator. It’s mainly used to treat severe lower back and leg pain. It can last for 10-15 years.
    • Radiofrequency stimulator: A battery pack that’s used outside your body. With this, you remain in control of the intensity, changing the levels of stimulation according to your preference.

    At Pro Spine & Pain, our board-registered pain management specialists are some of the most highly qualified and adept in Wisconsin. Before suggesting a spinal cord stimulator, they’ll use a collaborative approach where they’ll discuss your conditions and symptoms and review your medical history. If needed, they’ll refer you for advanced diagnostic imaging to ensure you qualify for a spinal cord stimulator.

    Follow Up

    After the anesthesia has worn off, you’ll be discharged and allowed to return home the same day.

    The incision should take around 2-4 weeks to heal, and you’ll be provided detailed close instructions to follow, such as:

    • Don’t take part in strenuous exercise or work for 4-8 weeks
    • Don’t sleep on your stomach
    • Avoid lifting heavy objects
    • Try not to twist or bend your spine
    • Change positions regularly


    What Is the Importance of a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

    Spinal cord stimulators are an effective surgery if other conservative treatments for chronic pain have been unsuccessful.

    Can You Remove a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

    Every type of spinal cord stimulator can be removed and renewed to be replaced when it stops sending impulses.

    What Is the Lifespan of a Spinal Cord Stimulator?

    On average, conventional spinal cord stimulators can last 3-5 years, whereas rechargeable ones last between 10-15 years. However, it depends on your condition, intensity of stimulation, and lifestyle.

    Updated on Jun 11, 2024 by Dr. Thomas Stauss (Pain Management) of Pro Spine & Pain

    Thomas Stauss, MD

    Thomas Stauss, MD, completed both his undergraduate and medical studies at the esteemed University of Wisconsin in Madison. Dr. Stauss values having access to a wide array of cutting-edge treatments, ensuring effective relief for his patients' discomfort and a significant enhancement in their quality of life. Dr. Stauss’s primary objective is to uphold the dignity of each patient while delivering ethical and professional services.

    More about Dr. Stauss