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Spinal cord stimulation procedure
Break the pattern of chronic pain

Understanding the trial

The spinal cord stimulation (SCS) “try-it” option helps you experience how well the neurostimulator may relieve your pain during different activities and while you sleep. It lets you try the therapy using an external stimulator that mimics the actual treatment.

How it works

Mild electrical pulses from the external neurostimulator (A) travel through the temporary leads (B) to the nerves near your spinal cord.

The wireless, handheld therapy programmer (C) lets you adjust the stimulation during the trial, enabling you to experience the different levels of stimulation the system can provide.

The trial lasts up to 10 days. Afterward, you and your doctor will decide if SCS is right for you.


Medtronic Intellis spinal cord stimulation trialing system, including external neurostimulator, temporary leads, and wireless programmer

You deserve to try it first

An SCS trial helps you take control of your treatment and assess how well the neurostimulator may relieve your pain during different activities.

Afterward, you and your doctor will decide if you should proceed with a permanent SCS implant, and whether the Intellis™ rechargeable system or the Vanta™ recharge-free system is right for you.

Before the trial

Discuss your therapy goals with your physician. Make a list of goals you’d like to achieve if your pain were managed better — for example, being able to shop for groceries without stopping to rest.

You may receive a workbook to track pain relief and improvement in your day-to-day activities. This will help you and your physician assess your response to the SCS trial and personalize your therapy.

About the trial procedure

The procedure to receive the trial system takes about 30 to 90 minutes and is usually done in a doctor’s office or same day surgery center.

General steps of the trial procedure:

  1. The doctor places the temporary leads (thin, flexible wires) near your spine using a small insertion device. The area will be numbed with a local anesthetic.
  2. As stimulation is applied, your doctor will ask how you feel to help determine the best location for the leads.
  3. The leads are connected to an external wireless neurostimulator, which will be secured to your back during the trial. This provides the stimulation therapy.
  4. In the recovery room, your device will be programmed to find a setting to determine the therapy that may work for you.

Note: These steps may vary depending on your doctor.

Things you’ll learn after the procedure:

  • How to use the handheld therapy programmer
  • How to care for the area around the leads
  • Activities and movements to avoid during the trial period

You may experience some discomfort on your back where the leads were placed. This is temporary and should go away in the hours and days after the procedure. You might also experience some changes in stimulation intensity with certain activities during the trial stage.

At home with your temporary SCS system

The trial period can last up to 10 days. Consider doing some of the things you normally can’t do because of your pain — like walking upstairs, standing in one place, or getting ready in the morning. The benefits of the therapy may be immediate or take a few days.

  • Your doctor will give you instructions to follow, including any limitations like twisting and heavy lifting, which may dislodge the trial leads.
  • Generally, you’re free to go to work, do your daily routine, and try some activities you’ve been avoiding because of pain.
  • The trial system isn’t waterproof, so you’ll need to keep it dry. Don’t let it come into direct contact with water when showering or bathing.
  • The benefits of the screening trial may be immediate, or they may take a few days.

Potential risks during the trial:

Complications can occur during the trial, including bleeding into the epidural space, infection, and other side effects. Do not undergo a trial if you have an active infection the day of the procedure.

Patient manuals

To view, download, print or order manuals, go to our patient manuals site. Search for the model or product name (for example, Intellis™ or Vanta™).

The next step — a permanent implant

At the end of your trial period:

  • Your doctor will remove the temporary leads and discuss your experience with you.
  • Together, you’ll decide if an SCS therapy implant is right for you.
  • If you and your doctor agree SCS therapy is right for you, you’ll schedule the procedure to get the rechargeable Intellis™ system or the recharge-free Vanta™ system implanted.

Before the system is implanted, there will be a waiting period after the trial. This gives you time to contact your insurance provider and schedule surgery. It also allows for your back to heal.

Implant procedure

Following a successful trial, you and your doctor will decide if a permanent implant is right for you.

The implant procedure is similar to the trial procedure; you will have leads placed near your spinal cord. In addition, the neurostimulator will be permanently implanted under your skin. The procedure is usually done in a hospital or surgery center on an outpatient basis, and takes about one to three hours.

Post procedure

After the surgery, it may take you several weeks to recover and for the leads to settle into place. During this time, your doctor may advise that you avoid certain activities, including those that involve lifting, bending, and twisting. You may also experience pain at the neurostimulator implant site.

The system won’t be turned on until you’ve recovered, so remember not to expect pain relief from spinal cord stimulation (SCS) immediately after surgery. Once your system is turned on and you’ve experienced the therapy for a while, follow up with your doctor to ensure that it’s working correctly and relieving your pain. There are many stimulation settings available. Your doctor will help you find the settings that are right for you.


Illustration of spine with neurostimulator and loop of light around the upper part of the body

Follow-up appointments

Follow-up appointments are usually once every six months. However, initially the neurostimulation system may require more frequent adjustments. Your doctor will explain how to personalize your therapy to achieve the best pain relief. Your therapy programmer can adjust the stimulation to levels that are right for you. This puts you in control of your stimulation, to make sure the therapy is meeting your needs.

Understanding the risks

Implanting the SCS system requires surgery which can have serious complications. Once the neurostimulation system is implanted, it’s possible that device complications may occur. Talk with your doctor to fully understand the risks and benefits of any therapy.

Automatically adjusts to your position

The Intellis™ system's technology listens to your body's response to stimulation and instantly adjusts pain therapy. The Vanta™ system has AdaptiveStim™ technology, which adjusts stimulation levels as you move.

Bryan charges his SCS device while lying on a couch and reading a book.

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.