Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a well-established, evidence-based therapy with FDA approval for Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor. Despite the early successful use of DBS to target the sensory thalamus for intractable facial pain, subsequent studies pursuing various chronic pain syndromes reported variable efficacy, keeping DBS for pain as an investigational and “off-label” use. The authors report promising results for a contemporary series of patients with intractable facial pain who were treated with DBS.
Pain outcomes for 7 consecutive patients with unilateral, intractable facial pain undergoing DBS of the ventral posteromedial nucleus of the thalamus (VPM) and the periaqueductal gray (PAG) were retrospectively reviewed. Pain was assessed preoperatively and at multiple postoperative time points using the visual analog scale (VAS), the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire-2 (SF-MPQ-2), and the Pain Disability Index (PDI).
VAS scores significantly decreased from a mean ± SD of 9.0 ± 1.3 preoperatively to 2.6 ± 1.5 at 1 year postoperatively (p = 0.001). PDI scores decreased from a mean total of 48.5 to 28.5 (p = 0.01). SF-MPQ-2 scores decreased from a mean of 4.6 to 2.4 (p = 0.03). Notably, several patients did not experience maximum improvement until 6–9 months postoperatively, correlating with repeated programming adjustments.
DBS of the VPM and PAG is a potential therapeutic option for patients suffering from severe, intractable facial pain refractory to other interventions. Improved efficacy may be observed over time with close follow-up and active DBS programming adjustments.