Epidural spinal cord stimulation for treatment of chronic pain—some predictors of success. A 15-year experience

K Kumar, C Toth, R K Nath, P Laing
Surgical Neurology 1998, 50 (2): 110-20; discussion 120-1

BACKGROUND: We have used epidural spinal cord stimulation (SCS) for pain control for the past 15 years. An analysis of our series of 235 patients has clarified the value of specific prognostic parameters in the prediction of successful SCS.

METHODS: Patients were followed up for periods ranging from 6 months to 15 years with a mean follow-up of 66 months. The mean age of the 150 men and 85 women in the study was 51.4 years. Indications for SCS included failed back syndrome (114 patients), peripheral vascular disease (39 patients), peripheral neuropathy (30 patients), multiple sclerosis (13 patients), reflex sympathetic dystrophy (13 patients), and other etiologies of chronic intractable pain (26 patients).

RESULTS: One hundred and eighty-nine patients received permanent devices; 111 (59%) of these patients continue to receive satisfactory pain relief. Pain attributable to failed back syndrome, reflex sympathetic dystrophy, peripheral vascular disease of lower limbs, multiple sclerosis, and peripheral neuropathy responded favorably to spinal cord stimulation. In contrast, paraplegic pain, cauda equina syndrome, stump pain, phantom limb pain, and primary bone and joint disease pain did not respond as well. Cases of cauda equina injury had promising initial pain relief, but gradually declined after a few years. After long-term follow-up, 47 of the 111 successfully implanted patients were gainfully employed, compared with 22 patients before implantation. The successful patients reported improvements in daily living as well as a decrease in analgesic usage. Multipolar stimulation systems were significantly more reliable (p < 0.001) than unipolar systems. Complications included hardware malfunction, electrode displacement, infection, and tolerance.

CONCLUSION: Aside from etiologies of pain syndromes as a prognostic factor, we have identified other parameters of success. In patients who have undergone previous surgical procedures, the shorter the duration of time to implantation, the greater the rate of success (p < 0.001). The diagnosis of failed back syndrome must be considered a confounding factor in our analysis. Those patients whose pain did not follow a surgical procedure had better responses to SCS than patients who had multiple surgical procedures prior to their first implant. The advent of multipolar systems has significantly improved clinical reliability over unipolar systems. Age, sex, and laterality of pain did not prove to be of significance.

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