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Just wondering the difference

tarheelgirlttarheelgirl Posts: 473
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:46 AM in Spinal Cord Stimulation
Hi there,

I am not to the point of getting a SCS...although my doctor has mentioned it as an option. I have to ask...

I have a tens unit and it does a great job on my neck (cervical issues)...b/c it's more like muscular pain. Sometimes the pain is sharp, but mostly it's nagging, tired feeling, muscular pain and I do have nerve damage in my right arm and hand per nerve testing. I can't pick up a jug of milk without supporting it with my other hand. I've dropped plates of food before...etc. So, the tens unit feels really good on this area and for this type of pain.

However, the meaner of the two evils of my spinal pain is my L5S1 area with severe sciatica. This pain is very sharp and shooting pain, the pain shoots to back of knee and the numbness/pins and needles go into my foot. I feel arthritis in my hip and NOBODY gets close to my hip/sciatic area...nobody! My skin is so sensitive that is feels like burning or like shingles...does anyone have this too??

Anyway, I guess my question is...Is the SCS similar to a tens unit? B/c I can't ever put my tens unit on my low back/sciatic area due to the burning pain. I'm just curious as to what the SCS would do to this area...and would it be similar to the tens unit in how it feels on that area?

Thanks and I'm so happy for those of you who have gotten your lives back with this unit!! It sounds so promising!
God bless you all!


  • I don't know that you can compare the two things. The tens unit as you know, is directed at helping your muscle pain, not nerve pain. In fact, my PM doctor has ordered one for me to use in my cervical area in addition to my SCS due to some new nerve related issues that are really tensing my neck and shoulder muscles. The SCS comes from inside and is directed through your spine to the nerves. It is a feeling that I could not put into words, but definitely very different than a tens unit. And you might find, if you ever get to the point that they test you with an SCS that you could stand that kind of stimulation since it is internal. I don't know anything about using it for sciatica. Have they ever suggested it for you?

    I do hope and pray that you will get some relief. You sound as if you are in great pain and I'm so sorry.
  • While the TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation and the SCS (Spinal Cord Stimulator) are similar in theory and pulse generation, they are miles apart in how well they are tolerated. A person who suffers from CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) has burning and hypersensitivity much as you describe for your hip and buttocks area. While they cannot tolerate touch or TENS, Spinal Cord Stimulation provides many of them with great relief.

    I cannot tolerate TENS on my shoulders or neck, however I get great relief from a cervical SCS that runs day and night.

    TENS and SCS both are designed to provide pain relief via the "Gate Control Theory". In essence if you can control the gate that opens the pathway to and from the pain generator and your brain, then you can replace the signal with one that is far more pleasant.

    The good thing is, that everyone goes through a trial to see whether or not they get good relief from Spinal Cord Stimulation. It's kind of nice being able to get a test drive before actually going through surgery.

    Hope this helps.


  • I guess this goes to show how different we all really are. I would say that my implant feels very much like the TENS units I've used, only (obviously) on a greater scale.

    Of course, all of my problems are mechanical, too, and it's not even supposed to work on those. I can tell you, though, that it doesn't touch the arthritis in my knees at all. Which is really kind of disappointing.
  • I really appreciate any input you guys give me on this subject...keep it coming if anyone else has an opinion or personal experience.

    I asked my husband if he remembered my doctor mentioning this as a treatment option for me and he said, "no, not that I remember, he's brought up an implantable morphine pump a couple of times". I don't know much about those either...so if anyone has an experience with a morphine pump, please chime in.

    I do appreciate that there is a "trial" period for the SCS...that is wonderful!!!...just wonderful!! So, if I get to that point, I could see if it would be a fit for me. It would be nice to decrease some meds...have you all found that the scs has helped with that issue? Like I said, my biggest fear is my 'hypersensitivity' area...thanks also "C" for that term...I didn't know there was a term for what I was feeling...just thought I was wierd for feeling this way! I'm very guarded of that area...so afraid someone or my kids are going to bump into me and sometimes my hubby forgets and rubs me actually "the wrong way" and a bout gets his hand knocked off! I'm glad I'm not the only one like this. That is the major thing this site has done for me besides being so supportive, but to show me that I'm not alone in how I feel, hurt, process feelings, go about my day, etc.

    You guys are the best!!
  • Hi...
    You ask about a morphine pump. I have had my pain pump about 10 weeks now and I must say I love the pain relief it gives me. Instead of morphine I have Diladuid in mine. Morphine makes me itch and dries my mouth out, Diladuid does not. I have no side effects with it. I tried the SCS but it did not work for me.
    You also have a trial with the pain pump. How it is given is up to your Doctor. I was in Hospital 3 days for mine. A catheter was placed in my spine and every day a shot of pain meds was given me until they found the dose that benefited me better.
    A pain pump would help with arthritis pain...it does mine. I have a bad knee and hip.
    They start you out on a very low dose and gradually build up the dose until they reach a therapudic level. I have decreased my oral pain meds down to 3 pain pills a day if needed. You also must go in every few months for a "refill".
    The down side to the pain pump is the size. It is about the size of a hocky puck and is implanted in your side and it does protrude a bit. To me the benefits far outweigh the size of the pump. I have my life back and am able to do just about everything I ever did before. The battery life is the same as with the SCS. It will have to be replaced about every 5 to 6 years. Refills are made through the skin with a needle through a port in top of the pump.
    You can get a hand held device(a PTM)that allows you to give yourself a extra doses of meds through your pump for flair ups. Your Doctor sets the number of doses you can give yourself.
    The advantage of a pain pump over the SCS as I see is the fact you do nothing to the pump after the implant. Your Doctor takes care of everything. Increasing the dosage, refills and replacing the pump when the battery runs down. They let you know when to come in for the refills so you never run out of meds. Because the meds go directly to the spine you need only a fraction of meds to ease your pain plus it does not go through your system as with oral meds.
    With the SCS you must set aside time every week to recharge your battery, sometimes as much as 2 hours. It tingles all the time unless it is turned off. Some people must change setting several times a day.
    BUT.....Both the SCS or the pain pump can help with your pain.
    It would be great if you could have a trial for both the SCS and the pain pump so you could decide which you want.
    Cheers :H
    Patsy W
  • a trial of each would be great! I don't use my PM doctor anymore and my PCP doctor treats me and my pain for now. What type of doctor would he need to refer me too for either one of these procedures?? Just wondering. Thanks so much for all the details you laid out for me. I really appreciate it! So I assume if Dilaudid is going directly into your spine, it's not as sedating, or am I way off base and it's a lot more sedating that the meds I take now (oxycontin, oxycodone, topamax, ativan, soma).
  • A lot of PM's do the SCS implant but for the pain pump I strongly suggest a very good Neurosurgeon who does a lot of pump implants.
    Your PCP can referr you to someone. Most PM's do not do pain pumps and will try to talk you out of getting one....mine did.
    My Neurosurgeon does both the SCS and the pain pump implant. I feel sure most of them do.
    But your PCP should be able to help you with finding a good one.
    Because the pain meds go directly into the spine there are fewer side effects...that's true. Some people do get drowsy but I do not. Morphine is bad to make you sleepy. There is a med they can put in your pump to counteract the sleepiness.
    The dose they srart you out on is just a fraction of what you take with oral meds.
    As for the arthritis in my knee and hip....I no longer even think about it.
    Best to you. As I said both devices can help with your pain.
    Patsy W :H
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