BACKGROUND:Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an accepted treatment in patients with failed back surgery (FBS), complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and persistent radicular pain following surgery. In order to avoid patient hazards or device malfunction manufacturers advise to abstain from magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in patients with implanted electrodes or pulse generators.
METHODS:In a prospective study, 13 patients harbouring an implanted Medtronic Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS) device underwent MRI (1.5 T) of the lumbar (n = 13), the cervical (n = 2) or the thoracic spine (n = 1) following the development of new spinal symptoms. An adapted MRI protocol was used limiting the transmitted energy and specific absorption rate. Tolerability and safety were assessed by means of a standardized patient evaluation form documenting pain on a visual analogue scale (0-10), neurologic deficit, and discomfort during the scan. In addition, overall satisfaction with the examination procedure was rated on a Likert scale (1-5). Image quality was rated independently and blinded to the presence of a SCS device by the radiologist and the surgeon as equivalent, superior or inferior compared to the standard spine MRI examination.
RESULTS:None of the 13 patients investigated by the modified spinal MRI protocol experienced new neurological deficits, worsening of symptoms or a defect/malfunction of the implant device. Three patients (23.1 %) reported transient warm sensation in the location of the electrode and in one case intermittent slight tingling in the lower extremities. Overall satisfaction with the examination was 1.13 ± 0.34 according to Likert scale (1-5). The image quality was rated - not statistically significant - slightly inferior to standard lumbar spine imaging (0.82 ± 0.54) with a kappa value of 0.68 between the two investigators. MRI examinations detected relevant and new lesions in 9 (69.2 %) patients which affected treatment in 8 (61.5 %) individuals.
CONCLUSION:Using a protocol with a reduced specific energy absorption rate, spinal MRI examinations in patients with SCS can be considered safe. The current view that neurostimulators are a general contraindication to MR examinations has to be reconsidered in patients with new or progressive spinal symptoms.