Spinal cord stimulation for chronic pain of spinal origin: a valuable long-term solution

Richard B North, F Todd Wetzel
Spine 2002 November 15, 27 (22): 2584-91; discussion 2592

STUDY DESIGN: A literature review was conducted.

OBJECTIVE: To review the indications and efficacy of spinal cord stimulation, particularly in reference to chronic pain of spinal origin.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: The first spinal cord stimulation was implanted by Shealy in 1967 via a subarachnoid route. Early systems were plagued with a high rate of complications and technical problems. With the evolving technology, especially the advent of multichannel programmable systems and more precise epidural placement, the ability of spinal cord stimulation to treat various pain syndromes improved. This article reviews the literature on spinal cord stimulation from 1967 to the present.

METHODS: The literature is reviewed, with a particular focus on recent studies investigating the efficacy of spinal cord stimulation for low back pain.

RESULTS: Most studies are limited by the same flaws, namely, retrospective study design. At this writing, the few published randomized prospective studies have suggested that spinal cord stimulation may be superior to repeat surgery. Complication rates have declined to approximately 8%, and reoperation is necessary in approximately 4% of patients. When current percutaneous techniques are used, a lead migration rate lower than 3% may be achieved. For certain topographies, laminotomy leads may be superior, particularly with regard to low back pain.

CONCLUSIONS: The ultimate efficacy of spinal cord stimulation remains to be determined, primarily because of limitations associated with the published literature. However, on the basis of the current evidence, it may represent a valuable treatment option, particularly for patients with chronic pain of predominantly neuropathic origin and topographical distribution involving the extremities. The potential treatment of other pain topographies and etiologies by spinal cord stimulation continues to be studied.

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