Subcutaneous Peripheral Nerve Stimulation with Inter-lead Stimulation for Axial Neck and Low Back Pain: Case Series and Review of the Literature

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While pain in the extremities often responds to treatment using spinal cord stimulation (SCS), axial pain is notoriously refractory to SCS. Interest in subcutaneous peripheral nerve stimulation (SQ PNS) as an alternative to SCS has emerged, but the most appropriate electrode locations and neurostimulator programming techniques are not yet clear.


A retrospective review was conducted of consecutive patients evaluated from August 2009 to December 2010 who had undergone trial of SQ PNS with inter-lead stimulation for axial spine pain. Patients proceeding to implant were followed postoperatively with routine clinical visits and a survey form at last follow-up. Ultrasound was used intraoperatively to ensure placement of electrodes at the appropriate depth in patients with larger body mass index. Primary outcome was patient-reported pain relief at last follow-up. Literature review was conducted by searching MEDLINE (1948–present) and through an unstructured review by the authors.


Ten patients underwent trial of SQ PNS and six proceeded to permanent implantation. Fifty percent (3/6) of implanted patients preferred neurostimulation programming that included inter-lead stimulation (“cross-talk”). Average duration of postoperative follow-up was 4.5 months (range 2–9 months). Average patient-reported pain relief at last follow-up was 45% (range 20–80%). One patient required re-operation for migration. Patients not proceeding to implant had paresthesia coverage but no analgesia.


SQ PNS is a promising therapy for axial neck and back pain based on a small cohort of patients. Ultrasound was useful to assist with electrode placement at the most appropriate depth beneath the skin. While inter-lead stimulation has been preferred by patients in published reports, we did not find it clearly influenced pain relief. Future investigations should include a randomized, controlled study design, as well as defined implantation technique and neurostimulator programming algorithms.

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