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Spinal Cord Stimulation for Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: An Evidence-Based Medicine Review of the Literature

Grabow, Theodore S. MD; Tella, Prabhav K. MBBS, MPH; Raja, Srinivasa N. MD


Objectives The purpose of this investigation is to assess the evidence for efficacy of SCS in the management of pain in patients with CRPS.

Methods Search strategy: Electronic databases such as Medline and Cochrane Library were queried using key words such as “spinal cord stimulation,” “reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD),” and “complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).”

Selection criteria: Relevant published randomized controlled trials (RCT), cohort studies, case-control studies, case series, and case reports that described SCS as the primary treatment modality for patients with CRPS were eligible for inclusion.

Data collection and analysis: Data extracted from qualified studies were summarized in sections of methodology, demographics, SCS equipment, primary and secondary outcomes, and complications.

Results Thirteen studies using the primary search strategy and 7 studies from their reference lists were considered. Five of these 20 studies were discarded. One RCT, 2 prospective observational, and 12 retrospective observational studies were eventually considered. The methodological quality of all studies was poor except for the single RCT study.

Discussion Although limited in quality and quantity, available evidence from the examined literature suggests that SCS is effective in the management of pain in patients with CRPS (grade B/C). Clinically useful information extracted from the available studies is very limited in guiding clinicians in the rational use of SCS for pain management in CRPS patients. Future attempts to investigate the efficacy of SCS in CRPS patients should involve methodologically robust designs such as randomized studies that have sufficient power.

Department of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

Received October 22, 2002;

revised February 16, 2003; accepted February 17, 2003.

Funded in part by grant NS-26363 and an RSDSA Fellowship.

Corresponding author: Dr. Srinivasa N. Raja, Johns Hopkins Hospital, 600 N. Wolfe Street, Osler 292, Baltimore, MD 21287. E-mail:

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.