Spinal Cord Stimulator

Spinal cord stimulators can be effective pain managers in certain circumstances. However, they are not for everyone and can be risky. This article examines the pros and cons of spinal cord stimulators with the aim of helping you make an informed decision as to the use of this pain management strategy.

Current Status

Spinal cord stimulators have been around for about 20 years. There are three companies that manufacture them:

  • Advanced Biosystems
  • Advanced Neuromodulatory Systems
  • Medtronics

Spinal cord stimulators are used for nerve pain. Two of the most common conditions that may warrant the use of this type of device are:

Although spinal cord stimulators can be an excellent choice for management for chronic pain conditions, it is an area that should be tread lightly. Arming yourself with research can help you anticipate both positive and negative outcomes of using this type of system.

What's at Stake?

With the public still reeling over the lethal side effects of Cox-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx, more people may be tempted to try spinal cord stimulators.

Spinal cord stimulation is an invasive pain management strategy, opening up new dimensions of potential health risks.


  • Recently, the first ever case against the makers of Vioxx was decided. The public is now aware of the dangerous effects that this and other Cox-2 inhibitors can have on the human cardiovascular system. Spinal cord stimulators might make a suitable replacement for Cox-2 inhibitors.
  • Spinal cord stimulators can work in those tough cases where other methods, although tried, have not brought relief.
  • Spinal cord stimulators allow you to adjust the pain modulating current, which in turn allow you to be in control of the pain relief you receive from it.2
  • The stimulator device is portable and therefore will enable activitiies of daily living (ADL) to resume.2


Spinal cord stimulation is an invasive approach to pain management. This means that you must undergo surgery to insert the device, and often to replace the battery or alter the prescription. The major "Cons" of spinal cord implant devices fall into one of 2 categories:

  • Risks. According to Managed Care Magazine risks "include infection, scar tissue, breakage of the electrodes and hardware, leakage of spinal fluid, bladder dysfunction, bleeding and hematoma formation, allergic reactions, and tolerance to the stimulation resulting in less effective relief".1 According to Spine Universe, other risks may also include headache and even paralysis.2
  • Effectiveness of treatment. The functionality of spinal cord stimulation is often dependent upon the implanted device itself. For example, what if the surgeon placed the device in the wrong location? Or the device might falter, altering the prescribed pain modulating current.2 For a more thorough coverage of the device specific risks of neurostimulation, see Spine Universe. Stories of those who have tried implanted spinal cord stimulation are in ready supply on reputable health forums on the internet.

    Where It Stands

    The decision to use spinal cord stimulators to manage chronic pain can only be made by you and your doctor. Knowing everything you can about this approach to pain management, and selecting a skilled, qualified physician are crucial to success. The physician you work with should be an expert in surgically implanting the device, and be throughly familiar with how these types of systems work.

    1 Morrow, Thomas, MD, Microcircuit Devices Deliver Considerable Relief From Chronic Pain. Managed Care Magazine.Retrieved September 1, 2005 from: http://www.managedcaremag.com/archives/0505/0505.biotech.html
    2 Walsh, Mary Claire, Spinal Cord Stimulation: Risks and Benefits, Spine Universe website Retrieved from: http://www.spineuniverse.com/displayarticle.php/article1980.html September 1, 2005.

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