Sports, Pain​ & ​

Regenerative Institute

Using Spinal Cord Stimulation For Pain Relief

Spinal cord stimulation is a technique that can be used to relieve chronic pain. Chronic pain is defined as pain that is persistent for longer than 3 months. It can interfere greatly with a person’s day to day functioning and lower their quality of life. According to a survey conducted by the National Institutes of Health, more than 25 million Americans are tormented by daily pain, especially in their back and their legs. Many of them have attempted various types of treatment in hopes of alleviating the pain, such as physical therapy, medications, injections and surgery. However, they were ineffective. This is likely because their pain is a result of damage to their nervous systems.


Fortunately, neuromodulation therapies can address this problem. This type of therapy directly stimulates the nervous system through the use of electrical signals in order to relieve pain. Spinal cord stimulation is one of the ways that neuromodulation is utilized to help patients alleviate their pain.


How does Spinal Cord Stimulation Work?

A device called a spinal cord stimulator is implanted in the patient’s body, typically at the base of their spine. The device consists of electrode contacts that modify the electrical signals from the damaged nerves to the brain. This disrupts the pain signals, preventing the patients from feeling the pain.


How Effective is it?

Spinal cord stimulation can successfully reduce pain by at least 50% for the majority of people who tried it. A large study involving 579 patients from 40 different study sites examined the clinical outcomes for spinal cord stimulation. Over 70% of the patients claimed to have experienced at least a 50% reduction in their pain. The study also found that spinal cord stimulation had an unintended side effect of affecting the emotional connectivity patterns in patients with chronic pain, which put them in a more positive mood.


Are you Suitable for Spinal Cord Stimulation?

To check if someone is a suitable candidate for spinal cord stimulation, a neurosurgeon, pain specialist or physician will evaluate their medication regime, pain history and physical condition. Patients approved for spinal cord stimulation typically have had severe chronic pain for over 3 years, did not benefit from conservative therapies, have had one or more spinal injuries, do not have a drug addiction or depression, will not benefit from additional surgery and have had a successful spinal cord stimulation trial.


The trail involves implanting a test device for about 4 days to check its effectiveness. The process only takes about 30 minutes. A very fine wire connected to an electrode is inserted into the patient’s back, below the vertebral column. The other end of the electrode will be attached to the stimulator which will be taped near the patient’s hip.


The trial is considered a success if the test device can reduce the patient’s pain by at least 50%. If this is the case, a permanent device will be implanted into the patient via surgery. The new device will be tuned to the patient’s unique pain pattern and comes with a remote control for the patient to adjust the stimulator.


Spinal cord stimulators do not alter a person’s anatomy. They merely modify the signals that damaged nerves send to the brain