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What Is a Neurostimulator?

Chronic Pain

An implantable neurostimulator is a surgically placed device about the size of a stopwatch. It delivers mild electrical signals to the epidural space near your spine through one or more thin wires, called leads.


How It Works

Neurostimulation provides pain relief by disrupting the pain signals traveling between the spinal cord and the brain. In other words, it outsmarts your pain.

Pain can move and intensify as you change positions. You can adjust the strength and location of stimulation to address these changes in pain with a handheld programmer. For example, if your pain moves or intensifies at different times of the day or during various activities - such as walking, sleeping, or sitting - you can accommodate these changes with different stimulation settings.


About the Neurostimulation System

A complete implantable neurostimulation system includes several components:

  • Neurostimulator – The device that generates the electrical impulses (placed under the skin in your abdomen or upper buttock)
  • Leads – Thin, insulated medical wires that deliver electrical pulses to the epidural space near the spine
  • Physician’s programmer – A device at your doctor’s office that lets your doctor adjust the neurostimulation system and its settings
  • Patient’s programmer – A handheld device you can use after you leave the doctor's office to customize the stimulation (within the settings your doctor has selected)

The neurostimulation system does not make any noise. It may be felt as a small bump under your skin, but does not normally show through your clothes.

Advantages Over Other Therapies

Spinal cord stimulation provides advantages over other therapies for chronic pain:

  • Unlike other chronic pain treatments or surgeries, you can experience spinal cord stimulation and see if it relieves your pain before committing to the long-term therapy
  • A screening trial serves as a temporary evaluation period. The screening trial is much like an injection, but instead of medication being placed into the epidural space, leads are positioned and connected to an external neurostimulator
  • It does not have to be a permanent procedure. The implanted neurostimulator can be surgically removed if you do not like it or if you decide to pursue a different treatment
  • Unlike oral medications that circulate throughout your entire body, spinal cord stimulation targets the precise area where you are feeling pain
  • Spinal cord stimulation can be adjusted to address changes in pain as you switch positions throughout the day
  • A neurostimulator may provide relief when other treatments – like medications or injections – have not

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.