Medical Breakthroughs: Spinal Cord Implant

BACKGROUND: According to researchers from the Emory Spine Center in Atlanta, there are about 350,000 lumbar spine surgeries performed in the United States each year. Up to 15 percent of patients who undergo these back surgeries will have persistent symptoms of pain.

Often referred to as Failed Back Surgery Syndrome, or FBSS, doctors have had few options to offer these patients for pain relief.

Howard Levy, M.D., a spine specialist from Emory University, says, "When patients have back surgery, the expectation is that the surgery is going to help them with the pain. Some patients don't get helped with the surgery."

Even after multiple surgeries, Dr. Levy says many patients are still left with unresolved pain.

SPINAL CORD STIMULATION: A new procedure may help unresolved back pain. Spinal cord stimulation works by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain by using electrical stimulation. A device is implanted into the lower back and wires are run into the spinal canal. Patients can turn the device on or off with the touch of a magnet. Dr. Levy says there is less recovery time and less pain involved with this device as compared to traditional back surgeries.

SIDE EFFECTS: Because spinal cord stimulation systems are surgically placed, infections are possible. Potential complications may include undesirable changes in stimulation, lead migration and loss of pain-relieving effects in some patients. Since spine surgery involves the nervous system, nerve damage is another risk. Both spinal cord stimulation and re-operation are standard medical procedures used to treat chronic pain.

THE STUDY: Participants must have had previous back surgery more than a year prior to enrollment, failure of alternative treatment measures such as medical or physical therapies, disabling pain that has limited their social and vocational activities, and must be age 20 or older.

Here is a list of the 9 study sites:

  • Hospital for Joint Disease, New York
  • University of Iowa Health Care, Iowa City
  • SUNY Upstate Medical Center, Syracuse
  • Nebraska Spine Center, Omaha
  • Emory Spine Center, Atlanta
  • Texas Back Institute, Plano
  • Rush-Presbyterian-St. Lukes Med. Ctr., Chicago
  • Swedish Medical Center, Seattle
  • Washington University Medical Ctr., St. Louis


George Rainey
Emory Spine Center
2165 North Decatur Road
Decatur, GA 30033
(404) 778-7262

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