Complications related to the use of spinal cord stimulation for managing persistent postoperative neuropathic pain after lumbar spinal surgery

Mohammed F. Shamji, Harrison J. Westwick, Robert F. Heary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Object Structural spinal surgery yields improvement in pain and disability for selected patients with spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, or a herniated intervertebral disc. A significant fraction of patients exhibit persistent postoperative neuropathic pain (PPNP) despite technically appropriate intervention, and such patients can benefit from spinal cord stimulation (SCS) to alleviate suffering. The complication profile of this therapy has not been systematically assessed and, thus, was the goal of this review. Methods A comprehensive literature search was performed to identify prospective cohorts of patients who had PPNP following structurally corrective lumbar spinal surgery and who underwent SCS device implantation. Data about study design, technique of SCS lead introduction, and complications encountered were collected and analyzed. Comparisons of complication incidence were performed between percutaneously and surgically implanted systems, with the level of significance set at 0.05. Results Review of 11 studies involving 542 patients formed the basis of this work: 2 randomized controlled trials and 9 prospective cohorts. Percutaneous implants were used in 4 studies and surgical implants were used in 4 studies; in the remainder, the types were undefined. Lead migration occurred in 12% of cases, pain at the site of the implantable pulse generator occurred in 9% of cases, and wound-related complications occurred in 5% of cases; the latter 2 occurred more frequently among surgically implanted devices. Conclusions Spinal cord stimulation can provide for improved pain and suffering and for decreased narcotic medication use among patients with PPNP after lumbar spinal surgery. This study reviewed the prospective studies forming the evidence base for this therapy, to summarize the complications encountered and, thus, best inform patients and clinicians considering its use. There is a significant rate of minor complications, many of which require further surgical intervention to manage, including lead migration or implant infection, although such complications do not directly threaten patient life or function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE15
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


  • Complications
  • Failed-back surgery syndrome
  • Persistent postoperative neuropathic pain
  • Spinal cord stimulation


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