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Spinal Cord Stimulator Placement

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What do I need to know about spinal cord stimulator placement?

A spinal cord stimulator (SCS) is a device used to control pain after other treatments have not worked. The SCS delivers a small amount of electrical current to your spinal cord to block pain. SCS placement surgery is done in 2 stages. In the first stage, a temporary SCS is placed and left in for about a week. In the second stage, a permanent SCS is placed if the temporary device reduced your pain. You will get a remote control to turn the pulse generator on and off and adjust the pulses.

How do I prepare for surgery?

  • Your surgeon will tell you how to prepare. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink anything after midnight on the day of surgery. Arrange to have someone drive you home when you are discharged from the hospital.
  • Tell your surgeon about all medicines you currently take. Be sure to include any medicine that may cause you to bleed more, such as aspirin or blood thinners. Your surgeon will tell you if you need to stop any of your medicine for the surgery, and when to stop. He or she will tell you which medicines to take or not take on the day of surgery.
  • Tell your surgeon if you have a blood disorder or had a bleeding problem.
  • You may need blood or urine tests to check for infection and make sure your body is okay for surgery. You may also need an MRI to check your spine before your healthcare provider places the SCS. Ask your surgeon for more information about these and other tests you may need.

What will happen during surgery?

  • Temporary lead placement:
    • You may get general anesthesia to keep you asleep during surgery. You may get local anesthesia to numb the surgery area. Local anesthesia allows you to stay awake during the surgery so you can tell your surgeon when your pain decreases. This helps him or her make sure the SCS is in the best spot.
    • Your surgeon will place electrical leads through a small incision or a needle inserted into your back. He or she may need to remove a small piece of bone to insert the leads along your spine. He or she will use an x-ray to make sure the leads are in the correct place.
    • The incision will be covered with bandages. The leads will be connected to wires and attached to a pulse generator placed outside your body.
  • Permanent lead placement:
    • Your surgeon will remove the temporary lead and replace it with a new, permanent lead through an incision or needle in your back.
    • He or she will make another incision in your abdomen or buttocks. Then he or she will make a small pocket under your skin and place the SCS. Wires will be attached to the SCS. The wires will be tunneled under your skin. Your surgeon will connect the wires to the leads placed in your spine.
    • The incisions will be closed with stitches and covered with a bandage.

What should I expect after surgery?

You will be taken to a room to rest until you are fully awake. Healthcare providers will monitor you closely for any problems. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay.

  • SCS settings on the remote control can be changed to help relieve your pain. Your healthcare provider will show you how to adjust the settings.
  • Medicines may be given for surgery pain or to prevent a bacterial infection.
  • Ice packs may be used to decrease the pain from the incisions.

What are the risks of spinal cord stimulator placement?

The spinal cord stimulator may not work correctly and you may need to have it replaced. You may develop a headache, or your pain may get worse. Surgery may cause you to bleed or to leak spinal fluid. After surgery, you may get an infection at the incision site. You may also get a serious infection near where the leads are placed. This may cause paralysis or become life-threatening.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

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