Failure modes of spinal cord stimulation hardware

J Neurosurg Spine. 2006 Sep;5(3):183-90. doi: 10.3171/spi.2006.5.3.183.


Object: Epidural spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is effective at treating refractory pain. The failure modes of the implanted hardware, however, have not been well studied. A better understanding of this could aid in improving the current procedure or designing future devices.

Methods: The authors reviewed electronic charts and operative reports of 289 patients who had undergone SCS implantation between 1998 and 2002 at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Data were collected on demographics, type of hardware, date of implantation procedure, indication for treatment, time to failure, and failure mode. Data were then analyzed to identify significant differences. A total of 577 procedures were performed, 43.5% of which involved revision or removal of SCS hardware. The most common indication was complex regional pain syndrome 1, and this was followed by failed-back surgery syndrome. The median number of procedures per patient was two. Approximately 80% of all leads were the percutaneous type. The majority (62%) of leads were placed in the thoracic region, and 33.5% of all leads required revision. Poor pain relief coverage was the most common indication for revision. Surgically implanted leads broke twice as often as percutaneous leads. In 46% of the patients, hardware revision was required, and multiple revisions were necessary in 22.5%. Three-way ANOVA revealed significant differences in failure mode rates according to location (cervical compared with thoracic, p = 0.037) and failure modes (p = 0.019). Laminotomy leads tended to break and migrate sooner than percutaneous leads. Thoracic leads became infected sooner than cervical leads.

Conclusions: The results of this analysis of SCS hardware failures may be used as a basis for refining surgical technique and designing the next generation of SCS hardware.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / instrumentation*
  • Electrodes, Implanted*
  • Equipment Failure Analysis
  • Equipment Failure*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain, Intractable / etiology
  • Pain, Intractable / therapy*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Spinal Cord*