Finding effective treatment for chronic pain especially chronic back and neck pain, can be challenging. When surgery or other treatments have been unsuccessful or are not an option, spinal cord stimulation or peripheral nerve field stimulation therapy may offer relief and improved daily functioning.
The medical literature has shown that spinal cord stimulation is potentially effective for a number of chronic pain conditions, such as back pain, neck pain, and complex regional pain syndrome, that have not been helped by other treatments.1
Spinal Cord Stimulation Therapy Is Reversible
Unlike most surgical procedures, spinal cord stimulation therapy is reversible. If a person decides at any time to discontinue the therapy, the electrical contacts, wires, and generator can all be removed and there are no permanent changes to the spine.
Other potential advantages of SCS include:
- Adjustable pain relief. Pain varies widely from person to person, and even within a single individual at different times. The number of pain adjustment options on the hand-held controller continues to grow as new models are introduced. In addition, some models adjust automatically to the person’s movements. Having control over pain can be a welcome change for those dealing with a chronic condition.
- Minimally invasive procedures. There is typically just one incision needed—to implant the generator—and ever-smaller generators do not require long incisions. The placement of the leads with electrodes is typically done with a hollow needle, rather than through an incision. It has few side effects and is easily reversible; if it doesn’t work or is no longer needed it can be removed.
- Reduced opioid use. The pain relief experienced with spinal cord stimulation and peripheral nerve stimulation may allow people to take fewer pain medications. Results in the medical literature show that more than a third of one study’s participants having high-frequency therapy reduced or stopped taking opioid medications. The study’s participants had been in chronic pain for an average of 13 years.2
- Targeted pain relief. Instead of taking a medication that affects the whole body and causes sleepiness, constipation, or other problems unrelated to the pain, spinal cord stimulation delivers pain relief only where it is needed.
- Limited or no side effects. The therapy does not have the type of side effects associated with many medications.
- Cost-effective pain relief. Researchers have found that the costs associated with spinal cord stimulation compare favorably with alternatives, including non-surgical treatments.3,4
- Alternative to oral medication. The therapy offers another pain control option for those who have problems taking oral medication.
- No refills needed. The pain relief from spinal cord stimulation can continue for years, without a need for new pills or frequent office visits.
Spinal cord stimulation does not eliminate all pain, but has the potential to significantly reduce the pain. Achieving this level of pain control and cutting back on—or eliminating—reliance on prescription painkillers makes the therapy helpful in some situations.