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Role of patient selection and trial stimulation for spinal cord stimulation therapy for chronic non-cancer pain: a comprehensive narrative review


Background/importance Patient selection for spinal cord stimulation (SCS) therapy is crucial and is traditionally performed with clinical selection followed by a screening trial. The factors influencing patient selection and the importance of trialing have not been systematically evaluated.

Objective We report a narrative review conducted to synthesize evidence regarding patient selection and the role of SCS trials.

Evidence review Medline, EMBASE and Cochrane databases were searched for reports (any design) of SCS in adult patients, from their inception until March 30, 2022. Study selection and data extraction were carried out using DistillerSR. Data were organized into tables and narrative summaries, categorized by study design. Importance of patient variables and trialing was considered by looking at their influence on the long-term therapy success.

Findings Among 7321 citations, 201 reports consisting of 60 systematic reviews, 36 randomized controlled trials (RCTs), 41 observational studies (OSs), 51 registry-based reports, and 13 case reports on complications during trialing were included. Based on RCTs and OSs, the median trial success rate was 72% and 82%, and therapy success was 65% and 61% at 12 months, respectively. Although several psychological and non-psychological determinants have been investigated, studies do not report a consistent approach to patient selection. Among psychological factors, untreated depression was associated with poor long-term outcomes, but the effect of others was inconsistent. Most RCTs except for chronic angina involved trialing and only one RCT compared patient selection with or without trial. The median (range) trial duration was 10 (0–30) and 7 (0–56) days among RCTs and OSs, respectively.

Conclusions Due to lack of a consistent approach to identify responders for SCS therapy, trialing complements patient selection to exclude patients who do not find the therapy helpful and/or intolerant of the SCS system. However, more rigorous and large studies are necessary to better evaluate its role.

  • Spinal Cord Stimulation
  • analgesia
  • Back Pain
  • Complex Regional Pain Syndromes

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