Effects of Tonic Spinal Cord Stimulation on Sensory Perception in Chronic Pain Patients: A Systematic Review

Neuromodulation. 2019 Feb;22(2):149-162. doi: 10.1111/ner.12893. Epub 2018 Dec 2.


Objectives: Even if spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is widely used and effective in treating intractable chronic neuropathic pain conditions, little is known about its possible impacts on sensory perception. Quantitative sensory testing (QST) is a useful tool to assess this issue. The aim of this study was to review the impact of tonic SCS on somatosensory perception quantified by QST in chronic pain patients.

Materials and methods: Relevant articles and abstracts were searched in all languages from CINAHL, Cochrane, Embase, MEDLINE, and Web of Knowledge data bases. Data were extracted and included studies were assessed for risk of bias.

Results: Out of 5610 records, 15 peer-reviewed articles were eligible and included. The results are heterogeneous due to inadequate comparability among studies for populations (a total of 224 patients diagnosed with more than 13 chronic pain conditions), QST parameters (22 measured with 25 different devices) and experimental procedures (study design, comparator, evaluation time, and area tested). The wide variety of studies, designs, populations, and measures included in this review did not lead to strong evidence on how conventional ("tonic") SCS affects sensory processing in patients with chronic pain.

Conclusions: The data available tend to suggest that conventional SCS does not interfere with perception of external stimuli. New studies that follow a standardized procedure and consider the possible influence of sensory profile, after-effect bias, and confounding factors are required to confirm this observation. Moreover, the impact on sensory perception of other SCS modalities and alternative electrical neuromodulation therapies could also be explored.

Keywords: Chronic neuropathic pain; quantitative sensory testing; sensory perception; tonic spinal cord stimulation.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Chronic Pain / physiopathology*
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Databases, Bibliographic / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Pain Measurement
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation / methods*