How Is a Spinal Cord Stimulator Implanted?

You may be eligible for permanent placement of a spinal cord stimulator (SCS) if your SCS trial was successful. A successful trial means your pain improved by at least 50%, and you were better able to function, sleep, and reduce pain medications.

The procedure to permanently implant the spinal cord stimulation system is similar to how the device was placed for use during the trial period. The permanent implantation procedure is performed in an outpatient setting by a spine surgeon or pain medicine specialist. You may be able to go home the same day. The procedure usually takes between 30 and 90 minutes. Some patients have their SCS devices implanted under general anesthesia.

Similar to the trial, an electrode (lead) is surgically implanted into the epidural space (the space in the outermost part of the spinal column). An anesthetic is used to numb the area before the lead is inserted. In some cases, the SCS trial lead is actually the same lead that is used for the permanent SCS system.

epidural space in the lumbar spine

A neurostimulator (small device that sends electrical signals to the lead) is implanted beneath the skin, usually in the upper buttock/back, upper chest wall, or stomach area.

The representative from the company that makes your stimulator shows you how to use the handheld controller that turns the neurostimulator on/off and adjusts the level of stimulation. Some neurostimulators contain a rechargeable battery, while others are primary cell (non-rechargeable) devices that do not require recharging. Your doctor will work with you to select the device is best for you.

What Is the Recovery Time After SCS Implantation?
The recovery time after the procedure varies between 6- to 8-weeks. You may experience pain and swelling at the incision site, and in the area where the device is implanted (eg, upper buttock). These symptoms should go away after a few days.

Immediately following SCS implantation, avoid the following types of movements:

  • Lifting
  • Bending
  • Stretching
  • Twisting

During your recovery period, the SCS company representative will meet with you to optimize the settings and train you on additional features.

Slowly return to your regular activities under your doctor’s guidance. Light exercise, such as walking, is encouraged to help you build strength and help relieve pain.

Battery Life
The effects of SCS last indefinitely for most patients. A primary cell battery typically needs to be replaced every 3- to 4-years depending on usage. The rechargeable battery typically lasts for about 10 years.

See our other articles about SCS:

Updated on: 07/28/17
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Managing Chronic Back or Neck Pain

Treating chronic pain is a challenge, but you have many options: injections, surgery, spinal cord stimulation, and more.
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