Implantable Devices

Spinal Cord Stimulators and Pain Pumps are advanced treatments for neuropathic pain. These systems are designed to interrupt transmission of pain signals from the spinal cord to the brain. If the neuropathic pain signals do not reach the brain, then you don’t actually feel the pain.

What Are Spinal Cord Stimulators (SCS)?

SCS devices introduce a low level of electrical current to the dorsal portion of the spinal cord to block the sensation of pain. The spinal cord stimulator lead(s) is introduced into the epidural space by a percutaneous approach. Before a permanent pulse generator is implanted, a temporary percutaneous lead(s) is used and is connected to an external pulse generator. The trial is from 3-7 days. If the patient has at least a 50% improvement in pain during the trial, he or she is considered a candidate for a permanent unit. The permanent generator is implanted usually in the abdomen or buttocks. A wire harness connects the lead to the pulse generator. The companies that manufacture these stimulators include Boston Scientific, ANS, and Medtronics.

What Cautions Should I Be Aware Of?

Patients with SCS units are not able to have MRI procedures due to heating of the electrodes which can cause spinal cord damage. Other scans such as ultrasound, CT and plain X-ray can be performed in these patients. Also SCS devices can set off metal detectors at airports. When flying, you may be required to turn off the stimulator during the take off and landing. The magnet of the stimulator can also cause damage to items with magnetic strips, such as bank or credit cards.

What Are Spinal or Pain Pumps?

These pumps deliver pain medication (Morphine or Bupivicaine) directly to the intrathecal space around the spinal cord via an implanted device. Medication is added monthly to the pump by injection through the skin into a pump reservoir. These pumps have been successful in management of chronic pain from osteoporosis or failed back syndrome. Spinal pumps have also been used to treat painful spasticity from multiple sclerosis.

What are the Risks Associated with Spinal Cord Stimulators and Pumps?

As with any invasive procedure, you must consider infection and bleeding. These devices carry additional risks of headache, spinal fluid leaks, and paralysis. Risks associated with the mechanics include equipment failure due to movement or poor connection.