Media contacts:
Janet Christenbury, 404/727-8599,
Kathi Ovnic, 404/727-9371,
November 13, 2001


Spinal Cord Stimulation or Repeat Spine Surgery: Emory Studies Which is Most Effective for Treatment of Chronic Low Back Pain

Could a small device implanted under the skin be the answer for thousands of patients suffering with persistent leg and back pain following low back surgery? Doctors at Emory University are trying to determine if spinal cord stimulation, rather than more surgery, can be an effective treatment for patients with a condition called Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS). The new study, recently underway at the Emory Spine Center, is the first of its kind to compare two treatments for chronic low back pain and leg pain: spinal cord stimulation and repeat spine surgery.

"Spinal cord stimulation works by blocking pain signals from reaching the brain," says Howard Levy, M.D., assistant professor of orthopaedics, Emory University School of Medicine and principal investigator of the two-year trial at Emory. "The device is implanted in the lower back and wires, or leads, connected to the device are run into the spinal canal. Once the device is in place, patients can turn it on and off with the touch of a magnet."

Approximately 200,000 Americans annually undergo an initial spine surgery for the treatment of low back and leg pain, according to a 1998 survey of spine surgeons. The same research indicates that about 25 percent of these patients continue to experience unresolved pain after surgery. And, despite a second procedure to relieve the pain, more than 13,000 patients still suffer from unresolved pain.

Participants will be randomized in this trial, meaning some will be implanted with the spinal cord stimulator and some will undergo a second spinal surgery. "In the end, the study is expected to tell us which treatment option provides reduced pain, greater functional status, improved quality of life and reduced disability to patients with chronic low back and leg pain," according to Dr. Levy.

Participants in the study must meet the following criteria: 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 ages 20 or older.

As with any treatment, side effects can occur. Because spinal cord stimulation systems are surgically placed, infections are possible. Potential complications from spinal cord stimulation 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 reoperation are standard medical procedures used to treat chronic pain.

Emory is one of 11 sites participating in this study, funded by the National Spine Network (NSN), based in Marietta, Georgia. To learn more about this study, call the Emory Spine Center at (404) 778-7000.

Return to November Index

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center
call Health Sciences Communication's Office at 404-727-5686,
or send e-mail to

Copyright © Emory University, 2001. All Rights Reserved.