From failed back and neck surgeries to spinal stenosis to incidents of ischemia and neuropathy, there are a host of conditions that cause chronic and long-term back and leg pain. And one technique physicians use to treat and manage this condition are spinal cord stimulators, small devices that generate and transmit 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 insert the device—as well as the accompanying “lead” wires that reach all the way to spinal cord and to the site where the nerves are found. He will also craft a small pouch in the skin of the abdomen to contain the device itself. Most often a temporary stimulator with wires will be implanted first in order to gauge whether or not the patient’s pain responds favorably to the treatment. If it does, a more permanent device will be inserted.

After implantation the patient is sent home with instructions from their physician on how to use the stimulator (most commonly, three or four times a day is recommended). 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.