The Use of Spinal Cord Stimulation/Neuromodulation in the Management of Chronic Pain

Gary L. Schmidt, MD


J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2019;27(9):e401-e407. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Chronic pain causes a tremendous burden on the society in terms of economic factors and social costs. Rates of spinal surgery, especially spinal fusion, have increased exponentially over the past decade. The opioid epidemic in the United States has been one response to the management of pain, but it has been fraught with numerous catastrophic-related adverse effects. Clinically, spinal cord stimulation (SCS)/neuromodulation has been used in the management of chronic pain (especially spine-related pain) for more than two decades. More recent advances in this field have led to new theories and approaches in which SCS can be used in the management of chronic spine-related pain with precision and efficacy while minimizing adverse effects commonly seen with other forms of chronic pain treatment (eg, narcotics, injections, ablations). Narcotic medications have adverse effects of habituation, nausea, constipation, and the like. Injections sometimes lack efficacy and can have only limited duration of efficacy. Also, they can have adverse effects of cerebrospinal fluid leak, infection, and so on. Ablations can be associated with burning discomfort, lack of efficacy, recurrent symptoms, and infection. High-frequency stimulation, burst stimulation, tonic stimulation with broader paddles, and new stimulation targets such as the dorsal root ganglion hold promise for improved pain management via neuromodulation moving forward. Although a significant rate of complications with SCS technology are well described, this can be a useful tool in the management of chronic spine-related pain.