Clinical Effectiveness and Mechanism of Action of Spinal Cord Stimulation for Treating Chronic Low Back and Lower Extremity Pain: a Systematic Review

Ricardo Vallejo, National Spine and Pain Centers
Ashim Gupta, South Texas Orthopaedic Research Institute
David L. Cedeno, Illinois Wesleyan University
Alejandro Vallejo, Lumbrera LLC
William J. Smith, Lumbrera LLC
Samuel M. Thomas, Des Moines University
Ramsin Benyamin, National Spine and Pain Centers
Alan D. Kaye, LSU Health Sciences Center - New Orleans
Laxmaiah Manchikanti, Paducah Retinal Center


Purpose of Review: The purpose of the present systematic review is to provide a current understanding of the mechanism of action and the evidence available to support clinical decision-making. The focus is to summarize randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and nonrandomized or observational studies of spinal cord stimulation in chronic pain to understand clinical effectiveness and the mechanism of action. Recent Findings: Several recent studies have demonstrated the benefit of spinal cord stimulation in managing chronic pain. Until recently, the mechanism of action was founded on a central paradigm derived from gate control theory, which is the need to stimulate the dorsal column of the spinal cord to generate paresthesia. The recent development of new therapies that do not rely on paresthesia has left the field without a clear mechanism of action that could serve as a strong foundation to further improve clinical outcomes. Consequently, multiple theories have emerged to explain how electrical pulse applied to the spinal cord could alleviate pain, including activation of specific supraspinal pathways, and segmental modulation of the neurological interaction. Recent systematic reviews also have shown the clinical effectiveness of spinal cord stimulation in managing chronic spinal pain, phantom limb pain, complex regional pain syndrome, and other chronic painful conditions. Summary: Spinal cord stimulation for the treatment of chronic pain is rapidly evolving with technology at its forefront. This comprehensive focused review evaluated 11 RCTs and 7 nonrandomized/observational studies which provided levels of evidence ranging from I to II.