Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a highly effective interventional pain management procedure that is used to relieve pain by confusing the brain’s perception of pain. 

The procedure is accomplished by inserting a device, called a spinal cord stimulator, into the body. Where the device is placed depends on where the patient is experiencing pain. Once inserted, the spinal cord stimulator begins sending electrical impulses to the spinal cord and nerves to intercept pain signals. Instead of pain, the patient experiences a more comfortable tingling sensation.


Spinal cord stimulation may be used in individuals with severe or chronic neuropathic pain whose symptoms have not improved with other treatments.

 Patients with one of the following diagnoses may be good candidates for SCS:

  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Epidural fibrosis
  • Failed back surgery syndrome
  • Post-laminectomy syndrome
  • Radiculopathy
  • Chronic Nerve Pain
  • Neurogenic Low Back Pain
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy


Before undergoing a permanent spinal cord stimulator implantation, the patient will go through a spinal cord stimulator trial period. For the trial, electronic leads will be placed under the skin using an introducer needle. These leads are attached to a small pulse generator (battery) that the patient will have to carry. Electrical currents will be emitted at preset intervals to target the areas where the patient feels pain.

The trial will allow the patient to experience the effects of SCS for about 5 to 7 days to determine whether the pain will be improved by stimulation. During this time, the patient must decide whether the stimulator provides sufficient pain relief and whether they are comfortable with the new sensations produced.

After the trial period is over, the leads will be pulled out. An additional procedure is not required. If the trial is successful in providing a 50% to 70% reduction in pain, the patient can be scheduled for a permanent stimulator implantation.


The permanent spinal cord stimulator implantation is an outpatient surgical procedure that takes about one to two hours to perform. It is similar to the trial procedure; however, the generator must also be surgically inserted (usually in the abdomen or upper buttock) so that all the wires are under the skin.

The patient will need a ride home after the procedure, and they need to plan to take things easy for a day or two afterwards. The patient will be able to perform most activities following the spinal cord stimulator implantation; however, bending, twisting and stretching of the spine should be avoided, in addition to heavy lifting.

If the procedure is successful, the patient may experience total pain relief or a significant reduction in pain symptoms. However, there will be a feeling of tingling caused by the electrical nerve stimulation.