Epidural Laterality and Pain Relief With Burst Spinal Cord Stimulation

Published:September 27, 2022DOI:



      Burst spinal cord stimulation (SCS) can achieve excellent clinical reduction of pain, alongside improvements in function, quality of life, and related outcomes. Good outcomes likely depend on good lead placement, thereby enabling recruitment of the relevant neural targets. Several competing approaches exist for lead implantation, such as the use of single vs bilateral leads and leads lateralized vs placed at midline. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between paresthesia locations and pain relief with burst SCS in a prospective double-blind crossover design.

      Materials and Methods

      All participants had bilateral back and leg pain, with more intense pain experienced on one side of the body. A trial SCS system was placed, during which brief intraoperative mapping with conventional stimulation was used to characterize paresthesia locations. Two programs for subperception burst SCS treatment were then applied for two days each, in random order: bilateral paresthesia coverage vs unilateral paresthesia coverage contralateral to the side of the body with more intense pain. Pain ratings (visual analog scale [VAS]) and pain reductions (scaling pain relief [SPR]) were reported for each.


      Of the 30 participants who completed the study, 24 (80%) had good pain relief with at least one program. A baseline VAS score of 8.75 was reduced to 5.98 with contralateral stimulation and to 2.88 with bilateral stimulation; with SPR, this equated to 31.25% and 67.50% improvement, respectively. The incremental benefit of bilateral stimulation over contralateral stimulation was statistically significant (p < 0.001). Of the 24 participants, 87.5% preferred bilateral stimulation, whereas 12.5% preferred unilateral stimulation. The six participants who failed the trial had no preference.


      When burst stimulation is delivered to spinal targets that can generate paresthesias contralateral to the side of worst pain, suboptimal therapy is achieved. Thus, attention to laterality and pain coverage is critical for successful therapy, and it may be important to carefully consider lead implantation techniques.


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