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Contemporary concepts of pain surgery

JNSPG 75th Anniversary Invited Review Article

Kim J. Burchiel and Ahmed M. Raslan

Pain surgery is one of the historic foundations of neurological surgery. The authors present a review of contemporary concepts in surgical pain management, with reference to past successes and failures, what has been learned as a subspecialty over the past 50 years, as well as a vision for current and future practice. This subspecialty confronts problems of cancer pain, nociceptive pain, and neuropathic pain. For noncancer pain, ablative procedures such as dorsal root entry zone lesions and rhizolysis for trigeminal neuralgia (TN) should continue to be practiced. Other procedures, such as medial thalamotomy, have not been proven effective and require continued study. Dorsal rhizotomy, dorsal root ganglionectomy, and neurotomy should probably be abandoned. For cancer pain, cordotomy is an important and underutilized method for pain control. Intrathecal opiate administration via an implantable system remains an important option for cancer pain management. While there are encouraging results in small case series, cingulotomy, hypophysectomy, and mesencephalotomy deserve further detailed analysis. Electrical neuromodulation is a rapidly changing discipline, and new methods such as high-frequency spinal cord stimulation (SCS), burst SCS, and dorsal root ganglion stimulation may or may not prove to be more effective than conventional SCS. Despite a history of failure, deep brain stimulation for pain may yet prove to be an effective therapy for specific pain conditions. Peripheral nerve stimulation for conditions such as occipital neuralgia and trigeminal neuropathic pain remains an option, although the quality of outcomes data is a challenge to these applications. Based on the evidence, motor cortex stimulation should be abandoned. TN is a mainstay of the surgical treatment of pain, particularly as new evidence and insights into TN emerge. Pain surgery will continue to build on this heritage, and restorative procedures will likely find a role in the armamentarium. The challenge for the future will be to acquire higher-level evidence to support the practice of surgical pain management.

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Eric M. Thompson, Kim J. Burchiel, and Ahmed M. Raslan

For confirming the correct location of the radiofrequency electrode before creation of a lesion, percutaneous CT-guided trigeminal tractotomy–nucleotomy is most commonly performed with the patient prone and awake. However, for patients whose facial pain and hypersensitivity are so severe that the patients are unable to rest their face on a support (as required with prone positioning), awake CT-guided tractotomy-nucleotomy might not be feasible. The authors describe 2 such patients, for whom percutaneous intraoperative CT-guided tractotomy-nucleotomy under general anesthesia was successful. One patient was a 79-year-old man with profound left facial postherpetic neuralgia, who was unable to tolerate awake CT-guided tractotomy-nucleotomy, and the other was a 45-year-old woman with intractable hemicranial pain that developed after a right frontal lesionectomy for epilepsy. Each patient underwent a percutaneous intraoperative CT-guided tractotomy-nucleotomy under general anesthesia. No complications occurred, and each patient reported excellent pain relief for up to 6 and 3 months after surgery, respectively. Percutaneous intraoperative CT-guided tractotomy-nucleotomy performed on anesthetized patients is effective for facial postherpetic neuralgia and postoperative hemicranial neuralgia.

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Nathaniel Whitney, Ahmed M. Raslan, and Brian T. Ragel

Severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in pregnant women can result in devastating outcomes for both the mother and the fetus. Historically, there has been concern regarding the issues involved when the fetus is not yet viable outside the womb. Currently, the ability to treat severe TBI with aggressive management of intracranial pressure (ICP) has led to the possibility of sustaining maternal life until the fetus is of a viable age and can be delivered. The authors present the case of a young woman 21 weeks pregnant with a severe TBI (Glasgow Coma Scale Score 3) in whom safe medical ICP management became ineffective. A decompressive craniectomy was performed to obviate the need for aggressive medical management of elevated ICP using fetal-toxic medications, and thus providing the fetus the best chance of continued in utero development until a viable gestational age was reached.

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Jorge L. Eller, Ahmed M. Raslan, and Kim J. Burchiel

Based on specific, objective, and reproducible criteria, a classification scheme for trigeminal neuralgia (TN) and related facial pain syndromes is proposed. Such a classification scheme is based on information provided in the patient's history and incorporates seven diagnostic criteria, as follows. 1) and 2) Trigeminal neuralgia Types 1 and 2 (TN1 and TN2) refer to idiopathic, spontaneous facial pain that is either predominantly episodic (as in TN1) or constant (as in TN2) in nature. 3) Trigeminal neuropathic pain results from unintentional injury to the trigeminal nerve from trauma or surgery. 4) Trigeminal deafferentation pain results from intentional injury to the nerve by peripheral nerve ablation, gangliolysis, or rhizotomy in an attempt to treat either TN or other related facial pain. 5) Symptomatic TN results from multiple sclerosis. 6) Postherpetic TN follows a cutaneous herpes zoster outbreak in the trigeminal distribution. 7) The category of atypical facial pain is reserved for facial pain secondary to a somatoform pain disorder and requires psychological testing for diagnostic confirmation. The purpose of a classification scheme like this is to advocate a more rigorous, standardized natural history and outcome studies for TN and related facial pain syndromes.

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Ahmed Raslan and Anish Bhardwaj

✓Cerebral edema is frequently encountered in clinical practice in critically ill patients with acute brain injury from diverse origins and is a major cause of increased morbidity and death in this subset of patients. The consequences of cerebral edema can be lethal and include cerebral ischemia from compromised regional or global cerebral blood flow (CBF) and intracranial compartmental shifts due to intracranial pressure gradients that result in compression of vital brain structures. The overall goal of medical management of cerebral edema is to maintain regional and global CBF to meet the metabolic requirements of the brain and prevent secondary neuronal injury from cerebral ischemia. Medical management of cerebral edema involves using a systematic and algorithmic approach, from general measures (optimal head and neck positioning for facilitating intracranial venous outflow, avoidance of dehydration and systemic hypotension, and maintenance of normothermia) to specific therapeutic interventions (controlled hyperventilation, administration of corticosteroids and diuretics, osmotherapy, and pharmacological cerebral metabolic suppression). This article reviews and highlights the medical management of cerebral edema based on pathophysiological principles in acute brain injury.

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Katherine G. Holste, Frances A. Hardaway, Ahmed M. Raslan, and Kim J. Burchiel


Nervus intermedius neuralgia (NIN) or geniculate neuralgia is a rare facial pain condition consisting of sharp, lancinating pain deep in the ear and can occur alongside trigeminal neuralgia (TN). Studies on the clinical presentation, intraoperative findings, and ultimately postoperative outcomes are extremely limited. The aim of this study was to examine the clinical presentation and surgical findings, and determine pain-free survival after sectioning of the nervus intermedius (NI).


The authors conducted a retrospective chart review and survey of patients who were diagnosed with NIN at one institution and who underwent neurosurgical interventions. Pain-free survival was determined through chart review and phone interviews using a modified facial pain and quality of life questionnaire and represented as Kaplan-Meier curves.


The authors found 15 patients with NIN who underwent microsurgical intervention performed by two surgeons from 2002 to 2016 at a single institution. Fourteen of these patients underwent sectioning of the NI, and 8 of 14 had concomitant TN. Five patients had visible neurovascular compression (NVC) of the NI by the anterior inferior cerebellar artery in most cases where NVC was found. The most common postoperative complaints were dizziness and vertigo, diplopia, ear fullness, tinnitus, and temporary facial nerve palsy. Thirteen of the 14 patients reportedly experienced pain relief immediately after surgery. The mean length of follow-up was 6.41 years (range 8 months to 14.5 years). Overall recurrence of any pain was 42% (6 of 14), and 4 patients (isolated NIN that received NI sectioning alone) reported their pain was the same or worse than before surgery at longest follow-up. The median pain-free survival was 4.82 years ± 14.85 months. The median pain-controlled survival was 6.22 years ± 15.78 months.


In this retrospective review, sectioning of the NI produced no major complications, such as permanent facial weakness or deafness, and was effective for patients when performed in addition to other procedures. After sectioning of the NI, patients experienced 4.8 years pain free and experienced 6.2 years of less pain than before surgery. Alone, sectioning of the NI was not effective. The pathophysiology of NIN is not entirely understood. It appears that neurovascular compression plays only a minor role in the syndrome and there is a high degree of overlap with TN.

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Kim J. Burchiel, Shirley McCartney, Albert Lee, and Ahmed M. Raslan


In this prospective study the authors' objective was to evaluate the accuracy of deep brain stimulation (DBS) electrode placement using image guidance for direct anatomical targeting with intraoperative CT.


Preoperative 3-T MR images were merged with intraoperative CT images for planning. Electrode targets were anatomical, based on the MR images. A skull-mounted NexFrame system was used for electrode placement, and all procedures were performed under general anesthesia. After electrode placement, intraoperative CT images were merged with trajectory planning images to calculate accuracy. Accuracy was assessed by both vector error and deviation off the planned trajectory.


Sixty patients (33 with Parkinson disease, 26 with essential tremor, and 1 with dystonia) underwent the procedure. Patient's mean age was 64 ± 9.5 years. Over an 18-month period, 119 electrodes were placed (all bilateral, except one). Electrode implant locations were the ventral intermediate nucleus (VIM), globus pallidus internus (GPI), and subthalamic nucleus (STN) in 25, 23, and 12 patients, respectively. Target accuracy measurements were as follows: mean vector error 1.59 ± 1.11 mm and mean deviation off trajectory 1.24 ± 0.87 mm. There was no statistically significant difference between the accuracy of left and right brain electrodes. There was a statistically significant (negative) correlation between the distance of the closest approach of the electrode trajectory to the ventricular wall of the lateral ventricle and vector error (r2 = −0.339, p < 0.05, n = 76), and the deviation from the planned trajectory (r2 = −0.325, p < 0.05, n = 77). Furthermore, when the distance from the electrode trajectory and the ventricular wall was < 4 mm, the correlation of the ventricular distance to the deviation from the planned trajectory was stronger (r2 = −0.419, p = 0.05, n = 19). Electrodes placed in the GPI were significantly more accurate than those placed in the VIM (p < 0.05). Only 1 of 119 electrodes required intraoperative replacement due to a vector error > 3 mm. In this series there was one infection and no intraparenchymal hemorrhages.


Placement of DBS electrodes using an intraoperative CT scanner and the NexFrame achieves an accuracy that is at least comparable to other methods.

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Daniel R. Cleary, Alp Ozpinar, Ahmed M. Raslan, and Andrew L. Ko

Fossil records showing trephination in the Stone Age provide evidence that humans have sought to influence the mind through physical means since before the historical record. Attempts to treat psychiatric disease via neurosurgical means in the 20th century provided some intriguing initial results. However, the indiscriminate application of these treatments, lack of rigorous evaluation of the results, and the side effects of ablative, irreversible procedures resulted in a backlash against brain surgery for psychiatric disorders that continues to this day. With the advent of psychotropic medications, interest in invasive procedures for organic brain disease waned.

Diagnosis and classification of psychiatric diseases has improved, due to a better understanding of psychiatric patho-physiology and the development of disease and treatment biomarkers. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of patients remain refractory to multiple modes of treatment, and psychiatric disease remains the number one cause of disability in the world. These data, along with the safe and efficacious application of deep brain stimulation (DBS) for movement disorders, in principle a reversible process, is rekindling interest in the surgical treatment of psychiatric disorders with stimulation of deep brain sites involved in emotional and behavioral circuitry.

This review presents a brief history of psychosurgery and summarizes the development of DBS for psychiatric disease, reviewing the available evidence for the current application of DBS for disorders of the mind.

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Zoe E. Teton, Katherine G. Holste, Fran A. Hardaway, Kim J. Burchiel, and Ahmed M. Raslan


Glossopharyngeal neuralgia (GN) is a rare pain condition in which patients experience paroxysmal, lancinating throat pain. Multiple surgical approaches have been used to treat this condition, including microvascular decompression (MVD), and sectioning of cranial nerve (CN) IX and the upper rootlets of CN X, or a combination of the two. The aim of this study was to examine the long-term quality of life and pain-free survival after MVD and sectioning of the CN X/IX complex.


A combined retrospective chart review and a quality-of-life telephone survey were performed to collect demographic and long-term outcome data. Quality of life was assessed by means of a questionnaire based on a combination of the Barrow Neurological Institute pain intensity scoring criteria and the Brief Pain Inventory–Facial. Kaplan-Meier analysis was performed to determine pain-free survival.


Of 18 patients with GN, 17 underwent sectioning of the CN IX/X complex alone or sectioning and MVD depending on the presence of a compressing vessel. Eleven of 17 patients had compression of CN IX/X by the posterior inferior cerebellar artery, 1 had compression by a vertebral artery, and 5 had no compression. One patient (6%) experienced no immediate pain relief. Fifteen (88%) of 17 patients were pain free at the last follow-up (mean 9.33 years, range 5.16–13 years). One patient (6%) experienced throat pain relapse at 3 months. The median pain-free survival was 7.5 years ± 10.6 months. Nine of 18 patients were contacted by telephone. Of the 17 patients who underwent sectioning of the CN IX/X complex, 13 (77%) patients had short-term complaints: dysphagia (n = 4), hoarseness (n = 4), ipsilateral hearing loss (n = 4), ipsilateral taste loss (n = 2), and dizziness (n = 2) at 2 weeks. Nine patients had persistent side effects at latest follow-up. Eight of 9 telephone respondents reported that they would have the surgery over again.


Sectioning of the CN IX/X complex with or without MVD of the glossopharyngeal nerve is a safe and effective surgical therapy for GN with initial pain freedom in 94% of patients and an excellent long-term pain relief (mean 7.5 years).