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Leads and Electrodes on Neurostimulators

Routing the New Signals that will Mask Your Pain


Updated December 11, 2009

The neurostimulator device generates electrical signals that mask the pain. But without leads that attach to it and the spinal cord area, you won't get relief.
Leads are wires that go from the neurostimulator to the spinal cords.

Spinal cord stimulators need leads to deliver the signals that will interrupt the feeling of pain. Leads are wires that go from the neurostimulator device (implanted in the back or abdominal area) to the spinal cord.

Boston Scientific

Pictured here are two different leads, or wire-like structures that are connected to the generator. At the opposite end of the lead are electrodes; this is the end that is placed in the epidural space, near the spinal cord. The electrodes deliver the electrical signals to the spinal cord.

There are two main types of leads: percutaneous and surgical. Percutaneous means "under the skin," so a percutaneous lead will be inserted in the soft tissue by means of an incision. Placement of the other type of lead is often left to spine surgeons who have more skill and practice in traditional back surgery.

Some manufacturers make different types of percutaneous leads, claiming that this will improve the pain management provided by the system. For example, on the model on the right shown here, according to the manufacturer, the leads can programmed individually by the doctor. But the degree to which this feature is helpful in relieving back pain is debatable, according to some physicians.

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