Spinal Cord Stimulation: Potential Benefits and Risks

The effects of SCS vary from person to person, and it is important to understand that SCS may help reduce your pain, but not eliminate it.

What Are the Potential Benefits of Spinal Cord Stimulation?
Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a form of neuromodulation that works by blocking pain signals in nerves from reaching the brain. In addition to reducing pain, other important benefits of SCS include:

  • Improved functioning
  • Increased activity and mobility
  • Reduced opioid [narcotic] use
  • Less need for other pain medications
  • Less dependence on bracing
  • Improved sleep

The effects of SCS vary from person to person, and it is important to understand that SCS may help reduce your pain, but not eliminate it.

man working in his garden

What Are the Potential Risks of Spinal Cord Stimulation?
During SCS implantation, there is a risk for bleeding, infection, pain at the site of surgery, nerve damage or (rarely) paralysis.

In some people, scar tissue may build up over the electrode at the end of the lead, blocking the stimulator's electrical impulse from reaching its target. In addition, the lead may move or shift, sending stimulation to the wrong location, or the neurostimulator could shift beneath the skin making it painful, hard to charge the battery or communicate with the handheld remote.

There is also a small risk that the lead could break or the stimulator could malfunction and require replacement. Finally, some patients may respond well to SCS at first, but later develop a tolerance to the therapy. In this case, the pain comes back because the nerves stop responding to neuromodulation.

Precautions
Discuss with your doctor what you can and cannot do while the SCS is implanted or activated (delivering an electrical impulse). Below are a few precautions to keep in mind:

  • Do not drive or operate heavy equipment when the stimulator is activated.
  • SCS systems may set off metal detectors at airports, for example, and manual TSA screening may be required.
  • MRIs, electrocautery, diathermy, defibrillators, and cardiac pacemakers can interact with some SCS devices, resulting in patient injury or damage to the spinal cord stimulator.

The decision to use a SCS is based on your individual needs and risks. Talk to your doctor to determine if a spinal cord stimulator trial is a treatment choice that's right for you.

See our other articles about SCS:

Updated on: 08/07/17
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