Spinal Cord Stimulation Found Effective for Lowering Opioid Use

Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is used to treatment many chronic conditions of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. This treatment is proven safe and effective. A spinal cord stimulator is a small device that is implanted beneath the skin and soft tissues, and wires run from the unit to small electrodes placed along the spine. Currently, more than 2 million Americans suffer from substance abuse related to prescribed opioid pain relievers, and 15 million individuals worldwide are classified as opioid dependent. Researchers have found that SCS can reduce opioid use in certain chronic pain patients.

The spinal cord stimulation procedure is done on an outpatient basis. First, the Annapolis pain management doctor will request you have a SCS trial, which involves wearing the battery-powered device outside the body. The surgeon will implant small electrodes along the spinal cord, and wires will run from the electrodes to a device (carried outside the body). If the 5- to 10-day trial proves successful, then a permanent implantation procedure will be scheduled. The small device will be placed below the skin, and a remote control device can turn it on and off.

Study finds SCS Successful for Pain Relief

A recent study analyzed 5,400 patients who had spinal cord stimulation from January 2010 through December 2014 (five full years). The researchers divided the groups into three periods: the year before, one month before, and one year after SCS implantation. The patients all used opioid medications for pain, and the main study outcome was to evaluate the opioid use before and after device implantation. The researchers studied the differences in usage between patients who had a successful implant and those who did not respond.

The number of opioid prescriptions filled in the United States in 2014 has quadrupled since 1999. In addition, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths (accidental and suicide) has increased during this same timeframe. Researchers in this study believed that spinal cord stimulation could help decrease opioid use. After analyzing the patients, researchers found that 70% had decreased, stable, or no use of opioid medications.

Patients were prescribed high dosages of opioids before the implantation procedure, with 25% of them using more than 80 mg per day. Overall, the procedure was proven effective for lessening opioid use in patients with chronic pain. Approximately 93% of patients continued on SCS therapy and reported lower average daily morphine or equivalent doses than those who had the SCS system removed.

Controlled Trials and Clinical Studies on SCS

In a study evaluating painful ischemic ulcers, researchers assessed the efficacy of spinal cord stimulation. The researchers reviewed studies involving ischemic pain and limb ischemia, which involved several randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and clinical studies. Of these studies, the pain reduction success rate was reported as 75% in three RCTs, and pain relief was quite higher in the SCS group compared to the placebo/control group. Additionally, pain relief was maintained after several months using spinal cord stimulation, and the trial groups showed a lower use of analgesics.

In several multicenter clinical studies involving spinal cord stimulation, researchers found that 65% of clients had a total pain relief with the device. In addition, other studies found that 91% of patients reported that SCS was successful for relieving chronic pain. The success rate for limb ischemia pain was reported at 75-91% in most all clinical studies.


Dr. Zed at All Star Pain Management is an expert in spinal cord stimulator implants, known as neuromodulation. If you or a loved one is experiencing chronic pain in the back, neck, arms or legs, call us today!


Abbott Park (2017). Analysis of data from SUNBURST study further confirms the benefits of Abbott’s BurstDR™ stimulation. Abbott Park, Ill: Abbott Newsroom. Retrieved from:  http://www.abbott.com/newsroom/news/analysis-of-data-from-sunburst-study-further-confirms-the-benefits-of-abbotts-burstdr-stimulation.html

Pedrini L & Magnoni F (2007). Spinal cord stimulation for lower limb ischemic pain treatment. Interact Cardiovasc Thorac Surg, 6(4), 495-500. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1510/icvts.2006.150185