Managing chronic pain with spinal cord stimulation

Mt Sinai J Med. Jan-Feb 2012;79(1):123-32. doi: 10.1002/msj.21289.


Since its introduction as a procedure of last resort in a terminally ill patient with intractable cancer-related pain, spinal cord stimulation has been used to effectively treat chronic pain of varied origins. Spinal cord stimulation is commonly used for control of pain secondary to failed back surgery syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome, as well as pain from angina pectoris, peripheral vascular disease, and other causes. By stimulating one or more electrodes implanted in the posterior epidural space, the patient feels paresthesias in their areas of pain, which reduces the level of pain. Pain is reduced without the side effects associated with analgesic medications. Patients have improved quality of life and improved function, with many returning to work. Spinal cord stimulation has been shown to be cost effective as compared with conservative management alone. There is strong evidence for efficacy and cost effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation in the treatment of pain associated with intractable angina, failed back surgery syndrome, and complex regional pain syndrome. In this article, we review the history and pathophysiology of spinal cord stimulation, and the evidence (or lack thereof) for efficacy in common clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Pain Management
  • Spinal Cord*
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation / methods*