Non-Surgical Spinal Cord Stimulation For Pain From Stenosis & Sciatica

Axial MRI image showing spinal stenosis

The spinal cord is the major electrical conduit from the body to the brain. When tissues are damaged in the body, let’s say from sciatica or spinal stenosis, the pain signals sent by damaged tissues are carried up to the brain by the spinal cord. If these signals don’t make it to the brain, we don’t feel the pain in our body.

Neuroscientists have known for years that these signals can be blocked at the spinal cord level with electrical impulses to relieve pain. The technique called dorsal column stimulation, when done correctly can block pain signals without blocking other important signals that are essential for the body to function properly.

Dorsal column stimulators have been successfully used to block the pain of sciatica, stenosis and even can relieve pain in patients who have had back surgery that failed to relieve a patient’s pain. They can really help patients suffering from spinal pain. This is how they work.

Spinal cord stimulators are like the pacer makers used to keep the heart in rhythm. Instead of connecting the device to your heart, the device is connected to the dorsal column of the spinal cord. When the dorsal columns are activated by the spinal cord stimulator, pain is reduced or eliminated. So dorsal column stimulation can be a godsend for folks suffering from chronic pain. That is the good news.

There is a down side of these stimulators, however. Unfortunately, to implant a stimulator requires surgery and all of the complications associated with it. Sometimes the device fails or scar tissue forms or other adverse events happen. Because it is a surgical procedure, it also is expensive.

The good news is that studies by researchers in Italy suggest that it may be possible to stimulate the dorsal columns of the spine and block pain without surgery and the potential complications of surgery.

A unique type of electrical field called “trans-spinal direct current” has been shown to activate the dorsal columns of the spinal cord and block pain without surgery.

A patient’s response to non-surgical spinal cord stimulation.

Another method of activating the dorsal columns of the spinal cord without surgery is to apply vibration to the body. Using special MRIs, researchers were able to document activation of the dorsal columns of the spinal cord in response to vibration. We combine electrical and vibration-induced stimulation of the spinal cord to help relieve pain in our patients. Our patients have been reporting excellent pain relief through this non-surgical treatment.