Used to treatment chronic and long-term back and leg pain, a spinal cord stimulator is a small device that generates and transmits pulses of electricity into the spinal cord, pulses which have the ability to block the sources of pain among nerves and nerve roots and give relief to sufferers. Typically, these devices are often utilized when more traditional pain management treatments—such as medications, physical therapies etc.—have failed.

Performed on an outpatient basis with local anesthesia only, a surgeon will make a small incision and clear a path to the epidural space around the spinal cord. The “lead” wires, which will be connected to the stimulator device, are then placed at the site where the nerves are found. These wires are then connected to the small electrical generator that produces the impulses. Finally, a small pouch in the skin of the abdomen or buttocks is created to contain the device itself.

Most often a temporary stimulator with wires will be implanted in order to gauge whether or not the patient’s pain responds favorably to the treatment. If it does—a 50 percent reduction in pain within one week is considered favorable—a more permanent device will be inserted.

When activated, the electrical impulses generated travel through the leads to the spinal cord, blocking the pain impulses within the nerves. The patient is given a handheld device to control the impulses, allowing them to administer the pain relieving benefits as they see fit.

Pain relief when using the spinal cord stimulator is immediate but can and does wear off in time, especially once the impacted nerves build up a tolerance to the treatment. In rare cases the wires or electrodes of the stimulator may cause an infection and scar tissue may form around the site of the implantation. But despite the relatively minor risks this mode of treatment for chronic back and leg pain is very well tolerated and highly successful.