Psychological factors in spinal cord stimulation therapy: brief review and discussion

Neurosurg Focus. 2006 Dec 15;21(6):E1. doi: 10.3171/foc.2006.21.6.4.


Since its introduction in 1967 by Shealy and colleagues, spinal cord stimulation (SCS) therapy has become an accepted approach to the treatment of certain types of chronic pain. Significant advances have been made in surgical technique, hardware technology, and the variety of disorders for which SCS has proven to be potentially beneficial. Despite these advancements, 25 to 50% of patients in whom a preimplantation trial screening yields successful results report loss of analgesia within 12 to 24 months of implantation, even in the presence of a functioning device. Psychological factors may play an important role in understanding this observation and improving the outcomes. In this article the author briefly reviews some of the data on psychological factors potentially involved in SCS. Research on patients with low-back and extremity pain was more heavily relied on because this is the population for which the most data exist. The discussion is divided into four sections: 1) role of psychological factors; 2) psychological screening and assessment; 3) patient selection and psychological screening; and 4) psychological variables and outcomes. To date, the data remain speculative. Although few definitive conclusions can be drawn, the cumulative existing experience does lend itself to some reasonable recommendations. As with all therapies for chronic pain, invasive or noninvasive, the criteria for success and an acceptable level of failure need to be established, but remain elusive. The emphasis herein is to try to take what works and make it work better.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / instrumentation
  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Analgesia / psychology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / psychology*
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Extremities
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / psychology
  • Low Back Pain / therapy
  • MMPI
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / complications
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / psychology
  • Pain Management*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Pain Threshold
  • Patient Selection
  • Psychological Tests
  • Psychotherapy
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*
  • Treatment Failure