Bioheat Model of Spinal Column Heating During High-Density Spinal Cord Stimulation



      High-density (HD) spinal cord stimulation (SCS) delivers higher charge per time by increasing frequency and/or pulse duration, thus increasing stimulation energy. Previously, through phantom studies and computational modeling, we demonstrated that stimulation energy drives spinal tissue heating during kHz SCS. In this study, we predicted temperature increases in the spinal cord by HD SCS, the first step in considering the potential impact of heating on clinical outcomes.

      Materials and Methods

      We adapted a high-resolution computer-aided design–derived spinal cord model, both with and without a lead encapsulation layer, and applied bioheat transfer finite element method multiphysics to predict temperature increases during SCS. We simulated HD SCS using a commercial SCS lead (eight contacts) with clinically relevant intensities (voltage-controlled: 0.5–7 Vrms) and electrode configuration (proximal bipolar, distal bipolar, guarded tripolar [+−+], and guarded quadripolar [+−−+]). Results were compared with the conventional and 10-kHz SCS (current-controlled).


      HD SCS waveform energy (reflecting charge per second) governs joule heating in the spinal tissues, increasing temperature supralinearly with stimulation root mean square. Electrode configuration and tissue properties (an encapsulation layer) influence peak tissue temperature increase—but in a manner distinct for voltage-controlled (HD SCS) compared with current-controlled (conventional/10-kHz SCS) stimulation. Therefore, depending on conditions, HD SCS could produce heating greater than that of 10-kHz SCS. For example, with an encapsulation layer, using guarded tripolar configuration (500-Hz, 250-μs pulse width, 5-Vpeak HD SCS), the peak temperature increases were 0.36 °C at the spinal cord and 1.78 °C in the epidural space.


      As a direct consequence of the higher charge, HD SCS increases tissue heating; voltage-controlled stimulation introduces special dependencies on electrode configuration and lead encapsulation (reflected in impedance). If validated with an in vivo measurement as a possible mechanism of action of SCS, bioheat models of HD SCS serve as tools for programming optimization.


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