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Spinal Cord Stimulation

Download the Cervical Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant treatment handout

Download the Cervical Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial treatment handout

Download the Lumbar Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant treatment handout

Download the Lumbar Spinal Cord Stimulator Trial treatment handout

Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal Cord Stimulation

Spinal cord stimulation is most commonly used for patients with failed back surgery syndrome but can also be used for complex regional pain syndrome and neuropathy.

This procedure is an alternative solution for patients who have already tried physical therapy, medications, medication injections, and even surgeries but to no avail.

To find out if spinal cord stimulation may help you, call us at (480) 573-0130 or click here to schedule an appointment.

What is Spinal Cord Stimulation?

Spinal cord stimulation is a therapy that uses a small medical device attached to the spine to alleviate certain types of chronic pain.

A spinal stimulator is a device that sends gentle electrical pulses to the nerves in your spinal cord. These pulses disrupt the signals of pain traveling to your brain, effectively reducing or stopping the feeling of pain.

Spinal cord stimulation is an alternative treatment for chronic neck and back pain caused by diseases or injuries affecting the spine. These causes can include:

  • Failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS)
  • Lumbar radiculopathy
  • Herniated or degenerated discs
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS)
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia
  • Angina
  • Phantom limb pain
  • Certain cancers
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Other causes of lesions or diseases that result in nerve pain

Spinal cord stimulation treats this pain by sending electrical signals to the spinal cord. The stimulator is implanted under the skin and electrodes are implanted in the space between the spinal cord and vertebrae (the epidural space). The electrical impulses prompt the release of chemicals from the body that decrease or limit inflammation reducing pain, and block the communication of pain through the nerves to the brain.

What Can You Expect From Spinal Cord Stimulator Surgery?

Every patient begins spinal stimulation with a trial to make sure this is the right option.

During the initial procedure, the electrodes are placed into the spinal column with a needle, which is taped to the skin and connected to an external battery. The battery delivers electrical impulses based on the patient’s pain.

Over several days, the patient tracks their pain and activity. At the end of the trial period, the patient returns to the office, and the electrodes are painlessly removed without the need for sedation or sutures.

Typically, if the patient has more than 50% pain relief, the trial is considered successful and they move on to have a permanent stimulator placed.

A permanent spinal cord stimulator implant is an outpatient procedure that generally takes 30 to 60 minutes, but can vary by patient. The placement is a minimally invasive procedure often performed under local anesthesia.

Two small incisions are made, one over the spine and the other on one side of the spine. One for the electrodes to be permanently secured in the back of the spine and the second for the battery.

Although this is not typically a painful procedure, the physician will usually prescribe pain medication for pain control after the procedure.

Patients generally return home on the same day with restrictions to avoid bending, lifting, stretching, or engaging in other physical activity until cleared by the physician. You will likely have a follow-up in six weeks, which gives the area around the implant time to heal and become accustomed to the new object.

How Will A Spinal Cord Stimulator Benefit Me?

Patients who have stimulators report increases in movement and function. Some reported improvements include:

  • Improved muscle and nerve function
  • Joint movement in hips, knees, and ankles
  • Increased grip strength
  • Improved walking and coordination
  • Less reliance on walking assistance

This option also allows people to receive pain treatment without the use of pain medications that raise concerns like opioids. Additionally, the spinal cord stimulator directly targets the area of pain or the cause rather than affecting the whole body like medications.

An infographic describing the spinal cord stimulation process and benefits.

What Is It Like Living With A Spinal Cord Stimulator?

Many people are able to move through life without worrying about their spinal cord stimulator. They return to regular day-to-day activities with less pain, and are not frequently focused on spinal cord stimulators causing permanent activity restrictions.

Of course, some may need to adapt to their stimulator due to the placement of the leads preventing bending or twisting in certain ways.

Maintaining the stimulator is easy– it doesn’t require any work from you. The battery may be rechargeable or non-rechargeable, but either will last 5-10 years without needing replacement. The electrodes are intended to be permanent, lasting as long as the patient needs the stimulator for pain relief. In either case, the physician will let you know which route you need to go.

Are There Risks Or Side Effects To Having A Spinal Stimulator?

Like any procedure that involves opening the skin, there is a risk of infection at the procedure sites. If infection occurs around the implanted spinal stimulator, it may require surgery to treat the infection. In some cases, the stimulator may need to be removed.

A rare but possible issue is the movement of the leads from their original position. However, newer devices are available that help anchor the leads to the spine, lowering the chances of movement.

When hardware or components foreign to the body are used, there is always the potential for them to break. Should this happen, there is a risk of damage to the spinal cord or the tissues surrounding the area. As with any mechanical device, the spinal stimulator could fail, malfunction, or become less effective over time.

What is the success rate of a spinal cord stimulator?

The level of success with a spinal stimulator does depend on the problem being treated. More than 50% of people with stimulators report decreased pain. Success can depend on the cause of pain and lifestyle factors.

All in all, spinal stimulators offer cutting-edge pain treatment for people struggling with chronic back and neck pain. Through gentle electrical impulses that relieve pain, this minimally invasive alternative is available when other treatments have failed. Backed by evidence-based research and personalized treatment options, these devices offer safe, effective, and customizable pain control possibilities. By treating the source of pain and providing long-term relief, spinal stimulators allow patients to take back their lives and return to activities they thought would be impossible. Considering the risks, like infection, is as important as accepting the benefits.

If you're living with chronic pain, reach out to the physicians at Advance Spine and Pain for an evaluation and discuss whether a spinal stimulator may be the right option for you. Schedule an appointment with us today.




Advanced Spine and Pain is a leading pain management group based in Phoenix, AZ, and quickly expanding throughout the state. Offering minimally-invasive pain care services, the ASAP group consists of Arizona's top pain management specialists, including Drs. Abram Burgher, Todd Turley, and Jarrett Leathem.

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