Peled Migraine Surgery Blog

Information and knowledge about migraine relief surgery.


Cracks In the Dam Between Plastic Surgeons and Neurologists

Cracks In the Dam Between Plastic Surgeons and Neurologists

As many of you are likely aware, there is a general disagreement between plastic/peripheral nerve surgeons and neurologists with regard to nerve decompression or transection and implantation as a treatment for chronic headaches.   The main issue stems from the fact that chronic headaches such as migraines are considered to be centrally-mediated.  What that means is that the headaches arise from any number of complex mechanisms within the central nervous system (i.e. brain or spinal cord). 

From the viewpoint of the neurology community, this concept of chronic headaches (e.g. migraines) accounts for the overwhelming majority of the various headache subtypes recognized clinically (e.g. cervicogenic headaches, new daily persistent headaches, etc.).  In contrast, surgical decompression (e.g. of the occipital nerves) is performed on the peripheral nervous system (i.e. nerves outside the brain and spinal cord). The possibility that peripherally mediated factors can cause or contribute to chronic headaches is relatively new, but has been around for over 20 years. 

Plastic/peripheral nerve surgeons who perform headache operations feel that in some patients (e.g. those that have failed traditional treatment modalities, those that respond to nerve blocks and those that have a specific set of findings on physical exam), peripheral nerve compression is a critical causative factor in headache symptoms.  Historically, these two camps have been at odds, but that dictum may be changing.

In a recent article in a prominent neurology journal (Blake and Burstein, The Journal of Headache and Pain, (2019) 20:76), two prominent neurologists, discuss the concepts and science behind peripheral nerve factors in the generation of headaches.  Furthermore, they elaborate on the fact that some patients who have what they term ‘unremitting head and/or neck pain’ (UHNP) share many clinical features of patients diagnosed with other headache disorders (e.g. chronic migraine, NDPH). 

The authors conclude among other things, that we lack an accurate classification system and nomenclature to describe these patients and that peripheral nerve surgery may be a reasonable treatment option for this subgroup of people.  The scientific possibilities underlying these conclusions are also discussed in some detail. 

I cannot emphasize how critical this paper is to those of us who have been championing the concept of headache surgery as a viable treatment option.  It is also a huge milestone for headache patients themselves.  I believe this manuscript is one of the first cracks in the dam that separates neurologists from peripheral nerve surgeons and might ultimately lead to wider acceptance of peripheral nerve causes for chronic headaches. 

Working together, both neurologists and peripheral nerve surgeons have the best chance of convincing  their respective colleagues that this notion is valid and advocate/work together to lobby for better insurance coverage and more scientific studies to further refine the patient population who would best benefit from surgical intervention as a primary or adjunctive treatment modality.  I applaud Pamela Blake and Rami Burstein for their courage in putting their thoughts to paper in what I am sure will be a somewhat controversial topic amongst their own neurology colleagues, but one which will ultimately benefit millions of headache patients.

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The Injured Nerve: What Should You Do?

The Injured Nerve What Should You Do

One of the questions I find myself answering again and again is how I make the decision as to what to do with a nerve once I see it in the operating room.  Do I perform a neurectomy and muscle implantation or do I stop at a decompression?  There are a lot of factors that go into making that decision so I will elaborate on a few of these in the lines that follow. 

To begin, there are certain ultrastructural characteristics that indicate a relatively healthy nerve.  One, you should have an intact vasa nervorum – the blood vessels within the nerve.  These can be seen under loupe magnification as fine red lines and indicate good blood flow to the nerve itself.   Blood flow is usually a sign of life and this nerve should be considered for decompression and preservation.  Another characteristic is the feel of the nerve.  A healthy nerve should feel like a soft, wet noodle.  If a nerve is firm like a banjo string, it usually means that there is at least scarring of the epineurium (the outermost covering of the nerve) and often the structures contained within.  In these cases, an internal neurolysis to separate the healthy from unhealthy fascicles is required and if the scarring affects too many fascicles, a neurectomy with muscle implantation is probably the better part of valor.  Third, the fascicular pattern should be visible.  Think of nerve fascicles like bundles of wire (e.g. the blue one vs the red one in all of those movies in which the hero is trying to defuse a bomb) within an electrical cord.  Stated differently, what you’re looking at when you look at a cord plugged into a wall is a rubber tube - the actual wires are the copper fibers inside that rubber housing.  Those copper wires are analogous to the individual neurons (i.e. nerve cells) and in an electrical wire, are often arranged into bundles.  In a nerve, those bundles of neurons are called fascicles. However, unlike the cord plugged into the wall, in a healthy nerve, the “rubber housing” should be transparent and the fascicular pattern should be visible. If it isn’t, the nerve isn’t completely healthy and those fascicles may be permanently damaged.  Take a look at the attached picture of a recent patient whose supraorbital nerve branches (multiple black lines) and supratrochlear nerve (arrowhead) are visualized.  Notice how white the supratrochlear nerve towards the right of the picture is and the lack of any fascicular pattern.  In contrast, the supraorbital nerve branches towards the left are pink indicating an intact vasa nervorum and the fascicular pattern is visible if you look very carefully (and likely magnify the picture on your computer). Fortunately for this patient, the vasa nervorum re-constituted and the fascicular pattern became more pronounced once the supratrochlear nerve was decompressed and a few minutes were given for the nerve to declare itself – yet another nuance of technique.  Therefore, both nerves were able to be preserved in this particular case.

Yet another factor to consider when deciding what to do with a nerve in the operating room is the actual function of the nerve itself.  For example, the greater occipital nerve, as its name suggests, has the largest area of sensory distribution of any nerve in the occipital region.  Therefore, performing a greater occipital neurectomy would leave the patient with a relatively large area of numbness.  Personally, I have a relatively high threshold for transecting the GON.  By contrast, the third (a.k.a. least) occipital nerve is many times smaller than the GON and has a minimal area of sensory distribution that is often also supplied in a redundant fashion by the GON.  Therefore, if the third occipital nerve is damaged, I have a lower threshold for performing a neurectomy since it is likely the patient wouldn’t have much numbness, if at all, were that nerve to be cut and buried in a muscle.  Lastly, is what I would call the “x factor”, in other words clinical decision making.  I’m often reminded of a saying I heard once that went something like this, “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement”.  In other words, experience counts and takes into account a myriad of other variables before ultimately making decision A versus decision B.  What was the mechanism of injury and how long ago did it occur?  What other treatments have they had that might have affected the nerve along its length (e.g. RFA or cryoablation) and how many times have those modalities been performed?  How did the patient respond to the numbness from the nerve blocks?  How old is the patient and how likely is it that they would tolerate a repeat procedure if decompression fails? Alternatively, how young is the patient and what is their regenerative potential?  If you cut that young person’s nerve, how would they tolerate 50 years of numbness as opposed to the 70 year-old patient who may only live with it for a few years and has many other medical problems more pressing than a little hypoesthesia.  The take home message is that electing to perform a neurectomy as opposed to a decompression involves a multifactorial decision making process so have a frank discussion with your surgeon about how s/he will decide which path to take.


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Someone recently asked this question on one of the forums and I thought it was a very good question the answers for which may not be immediately clear.  First of all, I think it is important to define exactly what is meant by ‘neuralgia’.  The prefix ‘neur’ simply refers to a nerve and the term ‘algia’ means pain.  Therefore, simply put, neuralgia means pain cause by a nerve or nerves.  The question always becomes which ‘neur’’ is causing the ‘algia’ and if you can answer that question, can you then do something about it?

Occipital neuralgia (ON) is a neurological condition in which the occipital nerves are irritated or compressed (i.e. pinched) and hence cause pain.  The typical symptoms are episodic (i.e. paroxysmal) bouts of “lightning-like” pain in the back of the head although as many of you know and as I have blogged about many times, the symptoms can vary widely.  Because each person is unique, they will each experience pain differently.  Similarly, trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a neurological condition in which the main trigeminal nerve trunk is compressed.  Not surprisingly, the classic symptoms are episodic bouts of “lightning-like” pain in the face which are the areas innervated by the various branches of the trigeminal nerve. These sets of nerves are not physically connected so why is it that ON often co-exists with TN?  The answer lies in the anatomy. I will have a picture of a peripheral nerve included in this post to help illustrate the points I make below.

Many people don’t realize that the upper-most, neural elements in the neck (e.g. the occipital nerves) have a common connection zone in the medulla which is a part of the brain stem, with the cell bodies forming the trigeminal nerve before continuing into the upper cervical spinal cord.  This zone is known as the cervico-trigeminal complex and can potentially explain why discomfort from lesser occipital neuralgia may sometimes also be referred to the trigeminal nerve territories anteriorly. Referring to the image of a neuron (i.e. nerve cell) below, you can see that when the long part (axon) of the nerve is injured (e.g. in a whiplash accident), the whole nerve becomes inflamed including the cell body.  This injury is depicted in #1 in the attached image. When the cell body of a cervical nerve (e.g. one that begets the greater occipital nerve) is chronically inflamed, the adjacent cell bodies (e.g. those of a trigeminal nerve branch – for example, the supraorbital nerve) also become inflamed. This injury is depicted in #2 & #3 in the attached image.  Then the axons of those latter nerves cause pain in their respective nerve distributions (e.g. in the forehead in the case of the supraorbital nerve). This injury is depicted in #4 in the attached image. In this way, an injury to the GON can ultimately result in forehead discomfort. To use an analogy close to home here in California, think of it as a forest fire that has burned too long and the embers from one part of the forest jump the clearing to the adjacent wooded area and cause a fire there. 

Neuron Diagram

Hopefully, it now becomes clear why ON and TN often co-exist.  It is usually the case that one begets the other and I have seen countless patients in my office whose pain started in the neck area and eventually spread elsewhere.  Fortunately, the process can also reverse itself.  I hope everyone finds relief this holiday season.  Happy Thanksgiving.

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Peripheral Nerve Surgery For Your Migraines

Peripheral Nerve Surgery For Your Migraines

Migraine headaches have traditionally been thought to begin within the central nervous system (i.e. the brain and/or spinal cord) and then produce symptoms elsewhere such as throbbing in the back of the head, forehead or temples. There are many theories as to what exactly within the central nervous system is causing these chronic and often debilitating headaches. Some of these theories include pathologic blood vessel dilatation and constriction (loosening and tightening), abnormal firing of neurons within the brain, and abnormalities of various biologic substances (e.g. serotonin, calcitonin gene-related peptide). The fact that no one theory has been proven correct is likely one of the many reasons that there are so many different methods for the treatment of chronic headaches like migraines. In fact, from a medication standpoint alone, there are not only dozens of medications used to treat migraines, but dozens of classes of medications such as triptans, anti-depressants, muscle relaxants, blood pressure medications, narcotics, anesthetics, ergotamines, and so on. Fortunately, a different perspective on chronic headaches has produced remarkable results that have been previously unheard of.

This different school of thought suggests that peripheral nerve irritation (i.e. irritation of nerves outside of the brain and spinal cord such as those within the scalp or forehead) can cause irritation within the central nervous system thus leading to the perception of and symptoms of a headache. If this mechanism were in fact the culprit, then identifying and correcting the cause of such irritation could produce relief from the headache symptoms. Plastic surgeons have been doing exactly that with a common nerve irritation problem known as carpal tunnel syndrome. In this syndrome, a nerve within the wrist is compressed (i.e. pinched) and surgeons decompress (i.e. un-pinch) it thereby relieving the symptoms of pain with a greater than 90% success rate. Recent research has demonstrated that just like at the wrist, there are nerves within the head and neck that are compressed and that decompressing them, can produce significant or even complete relief that can be permanent.

Peled Migraine Surgery of San Francisco has emerged as a leader in the development of peripheral nerve surgery as a migraine relief technique.  Ziv M. Peled, MD* is a Board-Certified plastic surgeon trained to perform the full spectrum of aesthetic and reconstructive plastic surgical procedures. He completed his medical school training at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine where he earned honors in multiple surgical disciplines. He subsequently completed four years of rigorous general surgical training at the University of Connecticut during which he also completed an additional two-year, post-doctoral Basic Science Research Fellowship at Stanford University under the tutelage of Dr. Michael T. Longaker, a pioneer in the field of scarless wound healing. During that time, Dr. Peled not only helped establish Dr. Longaker’s laboratory at Stanford, but was also awarded a 5-year NIH grant for his work in keloid biology and scarless wound repair. Ziv then completed a prestigious and highly sought-after plastic surgical residency at Harvard University. While there, he was awarded an “Excellence in Teaching” award from the Harvard medical students. Dr. Peled continued to hone his specialty skills with an additional year of training in peripheral nerve surgery at the Dellon Institute for Peripheral Nerve and Plastic Surgery. He is Board-Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, which means that he graduated from an accredited medical school, completed numerous years of residency training, and successfully passed a series of comprehensive written and oral examinations. The American Board of Plastic Surgery is one of only a select few specialty boards recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) and is the only ABMS board which certifies candidates in the specialty of plastic surgery of the entire body. Dr. Peled is also a member of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society of Peripheral Nerve PN) - the leading society of peripheral nerve surgeons.

In addition to his cosmetic and reconstructive work, Dr. Peled helped to found a perpiheral nerve surgery institute here in San Francisco. In that institute, he served as Director and Chief Plastic & Peripheral Nerve Surgeon. His specific training enables him to perform a unique set of surgical procedures designed specifically to restore sensation and minimize/eliminate pain in patients suffering from migraines as well as neuropathy due to diabetes, chemotherapy and thyroid disorders.  He has also treated many patients with various forms of nerve trauma as well as many other types of nerve disorders. Dr. Peled has authored and co-authored over 40 manuscripts and book chapters on all aspects of plastic surgery and has presented his work at numerous national meetings. He has performed several hundred peripheral nerve procedures of various kinds.  Ziv is an Active Member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and was also recently elected as a member of the American Society for Peripheral Nerve. This honor recognizes and highlights Dr. Peled's breadth of work with peripheral nerve patients suffering from migraines and diabetes as well as his published work on peripheral nerve surgery.

Visit today for more information, and to make an appointment to relieve your migraines. 

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ASPS Releases Migraine Surgery Position Statement

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The American Society of Plastic Surgeons has released its official position on the utilization of peripheral nerve surgery for the treatment of chronic headaches/migraines.  The world’s largest plastic surgical society has concluded that the “long-term effects of surgical intervention for MH cannot be reasonably attributed to placebo.”  This statement helps formalize a treatment option for migraine sufferers that may not have been available or visible to them in the past and may help start them on a path to significant relief.

“I am so proud of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons for formally supporting the concept of surgical intervention for chronic headaches and migraines, am proud to have been at the forefront of these procedures and to be a part of their ongoing development.” – Ziv M. Peled, MD

Patient Impact

Thousands of patients in the US and around the world have already experienced the benefits of peripheral nerve surgery for their chronic headaches.  This development will hopefully further raise awareness of this treatment modality thereby encouraging many more people, for whom conventional therapy has been unsuccessful to discuss these procedures with their treating physicians. When traditional methods have failed and left patients with debilitating migraines that stretch on for years, peripheral nerve surgery has proven to be effective in reducing or eliminating the symptoms by relieving the pressure on the nerve(s) that causes these terrible headaches. Peripheral nerve surgery has been demonstrated to be effective in more commonly recognized nerve pathologies such as carpal tunnel and tarsal tunnel syndrome, but has also been proven to work on nerves in the head and neck when the nerves have become impinged or crowded by scar tissue (e.g. in whiplash injuries) and surrounding spastic muscle.  By demonstrating their support for surgical intervention, the ASPS is giving patients that may have been hesitant to explore this option another reason to believe in its efficacy. This statement will aid many migraine sufferers as the procedure becomes more mainstream.  Ziv M. Peled, MD has been performing this surgery for many years and has helped hundreds of patients lessen or eliminate their migraines.

Appointments Available

Peled Plastic Surgery takes appointments at our San Francisco and Walnut Creek offices and sees patients from across the globe.  Schedule an appointment or Skype session by contacting us at or calling 415-751-0583.

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An Olympic Crash and Migraines

An Olympic Crash and Migraines

If you’ve been paying attention to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, you might have seen American luger Emily Sweeney crash on her fourth and final run at approximately 68 miles per hour.  It was clear that she was initially stunned, but happily was able to get up and walk away on her own.  Sometime later, she was being interviewed by a reporter from NBC and stated that she was ok adding that she was also very sore and stiff and was about to get an x-ray of her back.  Obviously, we all hope that Ms. Sweeney has no significant, permanent injuries and we all respect her courage and toughness in competing at a difficult sport at such a high level, especially when faced with the prospect of injury.  However, in watching her interview, I couldn’t help, but feel that there was some continued suffering in her affect and voice.

If you watch her actual crash, you can’t help but notice the impact of the speed and ice on her body as you see her hit her head and the contortions that follow.  Sadly, I see people who have had similar injuries from motor vehicle accidents, falls from horses and other types of sports who suffer from chronic headaches.  Many of these people have been diagnosed with “whiplash” which tends to be a basket diagnosis when someone has continued chronic pain, usually headaches, but whose workup including x-rays and MRIs don’t show any pathology and whose etiology remains unclear.  Unfortunately, at this point in time x-rays and MRIs (even magnetic resonance neurograms) are often not sensitive enough to pick up injuries in very tiny nerves that can cause significant pain.  In the case of neck injuries following which people experience chronic headaches, I believe that many of these symptoms are caused by traction (i.e. stretch) injuries of the various occipital nerves resulting in scar impingement around the nerves or actual tears within the nerves themselves.  These tears then heal with scar impacting nerve conduction and resulting in numbness, tingling and/or pain.  As a result, these patients end up seeing many different types of doctors who often prescribe many different types of drugs and give many types of injections in the hopes of treating this pain permanently. 

However, whenever there is a mechanical injury of a nerve, for example, compression secondary to scar tissue formation, a mechanical solution needs to be found.  For these patients, a simple nerve block (i.e. injection of local anesthetic) used in a diagnostic manner, will not only provide temporary relief, but allow the experienced peripheral nerve surgeon to discern which nerve or nerves may be involved in that particular person’s symptoms thereby pointing the way to a potential surgical solution which is often permanent.  Sadly, peripheral nerve pathology as a cause for many cases of whiplash or sports concussions with resulting headaches remains very unrecognized.  However, some physicians including some prominent neurologists are actually coming around to recognizing that structures outside of the brain and spinal cord can cause debilitating headaches.  Happily, they refer these patients to a trained peripheral nerve surgeon for appropriate diagnostic workup and ultimately treatment.  Hopefully Ms. Sweeney will not require surgical intervention of any kind, but if she were to experience chronic headaches with no other identifiable cause, I would hope that her trainers and doctors consider the possibility that a stretch injury to a peripheral nerve may be the underlying etiology which will save her and perhaps many others years of suffering.

To learn more about how migraine surgery can help with migraines caused by peripheral nerve damage from sports injuries or whiplash, visit today or call (415) 751-0583 to make an appointment.  Don't live with migraines if you don't have to. 

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Recent Comments
Ziv M. Peled, MD
Kathy. Thank you for your comment. Actually, the GON and TON are both accessed through the same midline incision since they are ... Read More
Monday, 19 February 2018 14:51
Ziv M. Peled, MD
With regards to the above reply, this first picture demonstrates the larger GON more cephalically and the TON more caudally. The ... Read More
Monday, 19 February 2018 17:58
Kathy, I'm not sure the gist of your last question, but whether you're doing excision or decompression the nerves are accessed thr... Read More
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 17:04

Chronic Pain and Dementia

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There is a lot of discussion, both in the media and in the medical literature, of the direct medical costs of chronic headaches which is a prototypical form of chronic pain. However, one thing that often gets overlooked is the indirect costs of these conditions. By indirect costs I mean, for example, lost productivity/income from work absences secondary to pain and/or increased costs for care of children and significant others secondary to an inability to perform these tasks oneself. Moreover, and perhaps most significantly, there are the psychological, emotional and physiologic tolls that chronic pain such as chronic headaches/migraines take on patients. In a fascinating study back in 2003, Susan Turner-Bowker surveyed over 7500 people with various health conditions and specifically analyzed a metric known as the health-related quality of life (HRQOL). What she discovered was that migraineurs’ HRQOL was similar to those patients suffering from congestive heart failure, hypertension and diabetes – all devastating illnesses. These results highlight the fact that chronic pain such as chronic headaches/migraines have significant negative impacts on functional health and well-being.

Unfortunately, the data correlating chronic pain with negative physiologic effects continues to mount. Just this week, a study in JAMA Internal Medicine looked at a cohort of over 10,000 elderly patients and followed them for a period of over 12 years. Remarkably, the people in this study who said that they were persistently troubled by moderate or severe pain demonstrated a nearly 10% faster decline in memory function over the subsequent 10 years. In addition, the statistical analysis implied that these same people would have a 16% higher relative risk of inability to manage other medications and an almost 12% higher relative risk of inability to manage their financial situation independently. It was therefore concluded that persistent pain was associated with accelerated memory decline and an increased probability of dementia. These numbers are significant because it has been estimated that as many as 1 in 3 elderly people experience chronic pain. The results seen with this current study are likely multifactorial, but may include the use of medication for pain, whether opioids or even NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen, Aleve) both of which have been shown in other studies to be associated with dementia risk. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the cognitive dysfunction associated with chronic pain may be secondary to diminished ability to focus on other functions as a result of the need to manage the discomfort, an effect that has been particularly noticeable on short-term memory. Another possible explanation may be that the stress associated with chronic pain may lead to cognitive decline via cortisol-based mechanisms.

While this particular study focused on elderly patients, it is reasonable to wonder whether or not the same mechanisms leading to cognitive decline suggested in this study also have effects on younger patients. I wonder, for example, if chronic pain beginning that begins at an earlier age leads to an earlier onset of cognitive dysfunction such as dementia. In either case, there is clearly a need to do more for patients than we are currently doing. Perhaps using conventional therapies as well as “thinking outside the box” at other possible causes for pain (e.g. peripheral nerve pathology) will allow us to manage these illnesses more effectively with less of a pharmacopeia. The ray hope from studies such as this one comes in the possibility that there is so much potential for benefit in overall health as well as quality of life even with small improvements in our understanding of these conditions.

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Just this week, several patients have asked about the tight muscles in their necks and upper backs. They have all wondered at some point whether it’s the tight muscles that are irritating the nerves or the nerves that are irritating the muscles and causing them to spasm. In most cases, this question ends up being like the one about the chicken or the egg - in other words difficult if not impossible to answer with certainty.  I do, however have several thoughts on the matter that I figured I would share as I believe them to be relevant to peoples’ understanding of their condition. First of all, spastic muscles irritating or compressing occipital nerves can certainly cause ON and an irritated nerve can certainly cause pain in the nuchal region, leading to both voluntary and involuntary guarding and spasm of neck muscles.  These factors feed on one another and as the pain increases, the muscles often contract more, causing more irritation/compression and hence more pain which leads to greater contraction and so on.  Second, in most patients, these processes have been happening for years and it is often difficult to remember which factor precipitated the other. None of this is to say that since we can’t always figure out “what started the ON”, that we therefore can’t do anything about it. For example, many of my patients have tried muscle relaxants as part of their medical regimens, often without success. In addition, my typical patient has not only tried and failed many different pharmacologic agents, but also many different non-operative treatment modalities.  PT, massage, Active Release Techniques (ART) are just some examples of therapies that focus on the muscles and which are common components of patients’ past medical histories.  The point is that if you’ve unsuccessfully tried to release, lengthen or relax your neck muscles in a number of different ways and still suffer from occipital neuralgia, then perhaps attempting to address another component of the ON symptom complex is also reasonable. In these same people, I often find that a well-placed nerve block or blocks not only seems to relieve their pain, but several minutes after the block has really set in, they are able to move in ways they have not been able to in years.  I use long-acting blocks and then have those same patients leave the office and engage in several provocative maneuvers to try and exacerbate their ON.  Many of them find that those typical “triggers” now don’t bother them and they remain relaxed until the blocks wear off.  What do these results tell you?  Among other things, they suggest that if the nerve, which has been chemically and temporarily “calmed”, can be treated permanently, perhaps the muscles that have relaxed will also benefit secondarily.  Moreover, they suggest that other distant muscles in other parts of the body may also benefit as they no longer have to compensate for spastic and ineffective muscles in the neck.  The take home message is that just because you can’t figure out which came first, the chicken or the egg, doesn’t mean that you can’t still treat the problem of occipital neuralgia effectively.

To learn more, visit today, or call 415-751-0583 to schedule an appointment.

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Hurry Up and Wait...

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I saw an interesting question posted today – something to the effect of, ‘If you have nerve decompression and/or transection, shouldn’t you feel immediate relief?” This question is a very important one, but the answer may not be intuitively obvious. The nervous system is truly complex and often quite difficult even for medical professionals to understand. Therefore, in an effort to explain why it can often take many months before a patient experiences the hoped for improvement, I’ll use an analogy to which many people can hopefully relate.

Most everyone has at some point, had the experience of falling asleep on their arm and waking up with slightly numb fingers. Upon waking, you notice the altered sensation in the fingers, shake them out and within a few seconds, sensation returns to normal. Many people have also had the experience of waking up after having fallen asleep on their arm for a longer time, getting up and realizing that they not only have very numb fingers, but also that they have difficulty moving their elbow, wrist and/or fingers very well. “Oh my gosh, did I just have a stroke?!?”, often comes to mind. In this scenario, you try to shake out the arm as best you can and it often takes a few minutes before things start to move again and sensation returns to the digits. Moreover, once the blood starts flowing again and sensation begins to recover, there is often a period of hypersensitivity before things settle down.

The difference in these two scenarios is the degree of pressure and the duration of pressure on the nerves in the upper extremity, obviously worse in the second scenario. Given the overall greater amount of pressure in this second scenario where you’ve probably slept on your arm for a few hours, it takes longer for the nerves to recover. Now take this second scenario and stretch it out much longer. In other words, let’s assume you’ve had pressure on your upper extremity for several years? Would the nerves be expected to recover in a few hours or days following decompression? Given what we know from the above examples, the answer is, ‘Probably not’. Recovery in these cases can take many months. The situation with neurectomy is a little bit different in mechanism, but the same in practicality. When you transect a nerve proximal (i.e. upstream) from an injured segment, you now have a “live” nerve end that you bury within the local muscle. However, doing so is not the same as turning off a fuse to an outlet with a short where the sparks stop immediately. Remember that this nerve is still attached to the spinal cord and therefore the brain, so impulses will still travel back and forth to that “live” end. However, with time, that sensory nerve end will likely make connections with other motor nerves within the muscle and in effect this “fools” that sensory nerve into thinking that it has found its downstream counterpart. You now have a sensory nerve connected to a motor nerve, a situation in which the impulses travel as they normally would, but have no effect on the muscle since the muscle only responds to motor nerve impulses. It would be like me having written this post in Sanskrit (which hopefully nobody reading this post understands). You might recognize it as writing, but it would make no sense and therefore would elicit no reaction. That being said, this process takes time which is the reason that relief following neurectomy with muscle implantation is often not immediate. The take home message is that recovery from any nerve operation is a process, not a moment in time. Hopefully that helps.

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Botulinum toxin has been used for quite some time to manage chronic migraines, specifically as a preventative agent. Like any treatment modality, the possibility for variable results exists. Certainly some people have had great results with treatment, but many have not. Very recently people have asked what their results with this treatment modality mean. Unfortunately, the answer is not straightforward for a number of reasons that I will delineate below.   Please keep in mind that these thoughts/opinions are general comments and not meant to be interpreted as specific to any particular patient’s situation. You will have to have a discussion with your treating physician as to how to interpret your specific results.

Botlinum toxin is most commonly used according to what’s known as the PREEMPT protocol. Briefly, this protocol calls for 31 injections for a total of approximately 155 units of botulinum toxin with some modifications allowed at the discretion of the treating physician. The PREEMPT protocol has been discussed in a number of journal articles, including a major article published back in 2010 in the journal Headache. In this study, patients were given either injections of botulinum toxin or placebo (both patients and physicians were blinded as to what was being given) and then followed for a total of 24 weeks. Botlinum toxin was injected at time 0 and again at 12 weeks with the final endpoint metrics assessed at 24 weeks. The authors demonstrate statistically significant differences in migraine and headache frequency (among other metrics) during the treatment period, in those patients receiving botulinum toxin as compared with placebo-treated patients. They conclude that botulinum toxin is a useful treatment modality for prevention of migraine headaches. So why doesn’t everyone use it? In my opinion, I believe there are a couple of very relevant criticisms of this study and the conclusions you can draw from it.

First, while clearly disclosed on the title page, the authors of this study are either employees of, have received research dollars from, or are paid consultants for the company that makes the specific form of botulinum toxin used; certainly a potential a conflict of interest although one that doesn’t necessarily invalidate the data presented. Second, while the data are somewhat obtuse and I am certainly no mathematician, if my calculations are correct (and I have redone them several times just to check) the patients in the Botox arm of the study had about 5 fewer headache days in about 6 months compared with those that were injected with placebo. If I told you as a patient that I would poke you with a needle 62 times over two visits and that if you were lucky and responded, you would have 5 fewer headache days in 6 months, would that be worth it? Perhaps and it’s better than nothing, but this result is hardly the wow factor many clinicians make it out to be. Second, let’s play devil’s advocate and say that a huge number of Botox patients had a complete response and had no headaches for the entire 24 weeks. My question to them would be: ‘Which of the 31 injections you got in each round was responsible for the great results?’ The answer would be impossible to give because botulinum toxin doesn’t work right away (it takes several days to become effective) and you got all 31 injections at the same time. So do you really need 31 injections or just 21, or perhaps just 5? You would have no idea. Third and going along with this line of thinking, if you had a great result with Botox, the presumption would be that you would need to continue with this type of therapy in perpetuity - not such a great proposition if you’ve got 40 years of injections to look forward to. I have also wondered what would happen to the neck muscles if they were constantly relaxed by botulinum toxin. Would they atrophy and weaken over time and if so, how would that affect your posture and your ability to lift your head? I don’t know the answer, but I would not want to find out on myself. The take home message is that you should have an open and honest discussion with your treating clinician about what you/they hope to accomplish with the results of any treatment you select along with the potential risks and benefits. Hope that helps.

For more information on headaches and headache relief, visit or call 415-751-0583 to make an appointment.

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This post is a rather long one, but an important one nonetheless in my humble opinion. Over the years that I have been performing headache surgery, I have heard from so many patients that they are frustrated with their current treating physicians because their symptoms are not under control to the degree that they would like. Anyone who has been on these forums for a few hours has certainly run into a post or several posts describing a bad patient-physician interaction or a bad patient-health system interaction. To all of those people - I completely empathize and you have every right to feel as you do. Having been a patient on several occasions myself, I know what it’s like to speak with a physician or an insurance adjustor and feel like you are talking to the clouds. It is very frustrating and can often leave you feeling helpless – and I’m a surgeon. As a peripheral nerve surgeon, especially one that operates on people with chronic, intractable headaches, I have often heard criticisms from other practitioners whom I don’t feel even understand what it is that I do. However, in those situations I often find myself trying to put myself into the shoes of the doctor across from me. What I have found is that there is always common ground to be had somewhere and that understanding their perspective can help me find it. In addition, since we are (or should be) on the same side, I have found that viewing things from a team perspective is particularly and practically very helpful.

Breast cancer is sadly a disease that touches too many people throughout the world. Over the past few decades, the medical profession has made incredible strides in fighting this dreaded disease and we now have cancer remission rates that were once thought impossible. One of the biggest factors in helping this development along has been the team approach. In our community, a patient with a new breast cancer diagnosis is immediately given a team of physicians and clinicians to help them navigate the process that is dealing with this pathology. To be sure, there is a “captain of the ship”, usually the breast surgeon or oncoplastic surgeon who is coordinating all of the moving parts, but every member of the team is critical to ensuring success. While the breast surgeon may remove the cancer physically, there is often a plastic surgeon to help reconstruct the resultant defect, a radiation oncologist who will help ensure that any disease that might have spread locally is controlled and a medical oncologist who will determine if the risk of distant disease is high enough to warrant a regimen of chemotherapy or hormonal therapy, There is also often a psychologist and nurse navigator who can help the patient deal emotionally and psychologically with the fear often accompanying a cancer diagnosis. Only when you put all of these components together, do you get the wonderful results that modern medicine has been able to achieve.   If you think about it, the same team principles apply to a football team (American football as well as soccer), a dance troupe or a team of scientists working to find a cure for something. So what the heck does this diatribe have to do with headache surgery?

Well, for years I have been saying to my patients that hopefully someday soon, we will realize that chronic pain should be best treated with a multi-modality approach as with breast cancer. Chronic headaches are a form of chronic pain. There are certainly many patients for whom medical management works very well. Those people do not need any injections or surgical intervention. There are those for whom pharmacologic agents are simply ineffective and in those cases, nerve decompression may be a good option. However, for most, a combination of therapies is necessary to control the underlying symptoms. I have heard from countless patients who tell me that prior to surgery their medication (say Imitrex) was inconsistently helpful. “I could flip a coin” they would tell me, take it early in the middle or late in a headache attack, but they could never figure out why sometimes it was effective and sometimes not. Following surgery, their headache attacks are much less frequent and often much less severe, but what was interesting to me was that they would tell me that when they would get an attack, the Imitrex was almost always effective. “Why is that?” they would ask. Well….it is likely that they have two problems contributing to their headache symptom complex. One is a chemical imbalance that medication would treat, and the other is a mechanical compression of the nerve(s). Pre-operatively, when you had a headache, you reached for what you had which was Imitrex, but if it was the mechanical compression that was irritating the nerve that day, you didn’t get any better. If it was the chemical imbalance aggravating the nerve, you did get better. Post-operatively, the mechanical compression has been relieved so the headache frequency and severity are much less, but there are still headaches. However, now when you take the Imitrex, lo and behold it almost always works, because it is actually treating the underlying chemical imbalance that is causing those residual symptoms. The take home message is that patients still often need to have those pain management physicians and neurologists involved to manage those medicines so that their symptoms remain under optimal control. Those that have seen me know that I often like to communicate with the very same such doctors prior to surgery to ensure we can optimize the post-operative recovery period which certainly can have its share of ups and downs. In the end, we all have to partner in this endeavor together as a team.

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I was recently invited to attend a meeting on the use of multimodality therapy to decrease the use of opioids in the US population.  Unless you’ve been away on a remote island for a long time or completely eschew any sort of media including newspapers and TV, you’ve probably heard that we have a problem with opioid use in this country.  I knew the numbers were bad, but frankly I came away from this meeting completely floored. Here are some statistics that should make you pause and take notice:

1. Americans account for only 4.6% of the world’s population yet have been consuming 80% of the world’s opioid supply and 99% of the world’s hydrocodone supply. 

Pain Physician. 2012; 15(3 suppl):ES9-ES38.

2. 1 in 15 patients will become chronic opioid users after surgery. 

Carroll I, et al, A pilot study of the determinants of longitudinal opioid use after surgery. Anesth Analg. 2102; 115(3): 694-702.  NIH, National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prescription and over-the-counter medications. Drug Facts. Revised Nov 2015. Accessed 08/24/16.

3. 1 year following elective cervical spine surgery, approximately 1/3 of all patients were still using opioids.  

Wang M, et al. Predictors of 12-month opioid use after elective cervical spine surgery for degenerative changes [abstract]. Spine. 2103; 13(suppl): S6-S7.

4. 3 out of 4 people who misuse prescription painkillers,use medication that had been prescribed for someone else. 

Manchikanti L, et al. Opioid epidemic in the United States. Pain Physician. 2012; 15(3 suppl): ES9-ES38.  Office of National Drug Control Policy. 2013 Drug overdose mortality data announced: prescription opioid deaths level; heroin-related deaths rise[press release]. 01/12/15. Accessed 08/24/16.

5. Abuse of prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodinleads to eventual heroin use in 14% of people.

Busch S, et al. Abuse of prescription medication risks heroin use. Infographic created for: National Institute on Drug Abuse. 08/24/16.

6. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids in the US. This number represents enough narcotics so that every American could have a full bottle of pills sufficient to take 5 mg of hydrocodone every 6 hours for 45 days.

7. The problem is obviously worse in some parts of this country than others.  For example, 1 in 6 PEOPLE (not patients, people!) in the state of Tennessee are on opioids. (Presentation at this meeting)

Obviously, given the scope of the problem, you might suspect that there is no one or easy answer and you would be correct.  There is plenty of blame to go around on all sides of this major issue, but that also means there may be many avenues from which to address the problem. The people in the conference today are at the forefront of this epidemic and have a number of interesting ideas and strategies as to how to begin to tackle this problem.  Stay tuned….

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The Headache Pain Caused by the Common Cold

The Headache Pain Caused by the Common Cold

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day as I was finishing up a particular headache surgical procedure.   Something that has come up over the years is that patients tell me that their headaches are worse when they are sick with the cold, flu or some other such issue. I have been pondering why this symptom change might be taking place for a long time. As with many of my blog posts, there are several possible causes for this phenomenon in my opinion and so I have decided to delineate these possibilities below.

One reason is that people who are sick are often more stressed either because of or as a cause of their illness. It is considered reasonable that stress, of whatever type, can weaken the immune system and thus mitigate the body’s ability to fight various pathogens. These pathogens can cause all manner of irritation and inflammation in various tissues such as muscles hence the muscle discomfort with the flu, for example. If one type of tissue is irritated, the surrounding tissues might suffer the same fate. In addition, when we are stressed, our blood pressure often rises. Since many of the nerves which we address during our operations are compressed by surrounding blood vessels, it follows that when these vessels beat harder (i.e. during a period of relative hypertension) the nerves which are already irritated may become even more so. But another, third thing happens during an infectious scenario, one to which most people can also relate. Have you ever felt your neck when you feel you have a sore throat or the sniffles? If so, you have probably noticed that the lymph nodes in the area are swollen and often tender. That is because these lymph nodes are the factories for pathogen-fighting cells and they ramp up production (hence swell) when you are sick. As I was dissecting this person’s greater occipital and lesser occipital nerves, I noticed several enlarged lymph nodes located within the already crowded spaces through which these nerves passed. Bear in mind that we don’t operate on people who are sick so these nodes were particularly enlarged given that fact alone. The nodes were further compressing these poor nerves which were already pressured by the surrounding blood vessels and scarred connective tissue. I could only imagine what occurs to these nerves if that person were to contract the flu. Those nodes would surely swell, sometimes quite dramatically and place even further pressure in the area causing even further pain. With pain comes higher blood pressure, hence more compression and so begins the upward spiral. One recurring question from patients is, “What is compressing my nerves?” The answer used to be possibly spastic muscle, tight/scarred connective tissue, enlarged or aberrant blood vessels. It now also includes abnormally large and/or poorly localized lymph nodes. Happily these nodes can be removed carefully and selectively to further relieve pressure during a decompression procedure and many of the patients in whom this lymph node removal was necessary have gone on to do quite well. Finally, none of the nodes which I have biopsied to date have revealed any evidence for malignancy or other pathology, further happily capping a saga that has resulted in many positive outcomes.

So if you suffer from headaches, please visit us at or call us at 415-751-0583 and 925-933-5700 to setup an appointment to find out if we can reduce or eliminate your migraines. We look forward to hearing from you!


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California Headache Surgery With Dr. Ziv Peled

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Surgery for chronic headaches in California is here.  People often call me from cities outside of San Francisco wondering if we can help them.  Happily, many times if they need it, I can help them, no matter where they come from! We have seen patients from all across the United States, and as far away as Brazil, New Zealand and Finland. Since chronic headaches occur in every part of the world, we are excited to help people in even further-flung areas and want to extend an invitation to everyone in California and abroad that we may be able to help reduce or eliminate their “migraines”with peripheral nerve surgery.

I have successfully performed many of these operations using my knowledge and experience in peripheral nerve surgery to ease the pain caused by compressed, irritated or injured nerves in the head that can lead to the excruciating “migraines” that people have been forced to live with for many years. My practice has developed a system to help with travel and lodging  and to ensure that each patient has as seamless an experience as possible.  We have also developed protocols utilizing Skype to confer with patients to discuss the potential for these often life-changing procedures. 

I also firmly believe that care doesn’t end with the surgical procedure. Of course, we do everything we can to ensure that the operation itself is successful, but continue a dialogue with patients often lasting many months following their procedures. While we ourselves cannot be everywhere, the ability to speak with and interact with your surgeon is important to deal with any issues that might arise during the post-operative and recovery phases. While these times can be challenging, our practice has refined the process to ask the right questions and determine if any further action is needed.  With Peled Plastic surgery, you won't be left on your own after your operation.

So if you suffer from chronic headaches or “migraines”, please visit us at or call us at 415-751-0583 and 925-933-5700 to set up an appointment to find out if we can reduce or eliminate your symptoms. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Los Angeles Can Get Headache Surgery


Los Angeles is home to just under 4 million people. Since 18% of women and 6% of men suffer from debilitating migraines, this means that almost 720,000 women and 240,000 men suffer from the headaches. Where can these people turn to for treatment of migraines?

Up the coast in San Francisco, Dr. Ziv Peled specializes in migraine and headache surgery, giving Californians an opportunity for migraine relief. Dr. Peled uses peripheral nerve surgery to relieve the tension around the nerves that are causing the migraines.

Surgical decompression for chronic headaches is performed as an outpatient procedure at an accredited surgery center or in the outpatient department of the California Pacific Medical Center. The procedures can last anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours depending on the number and locations of the nerves being treated. There are few restrictions following the procedure and discomfort is usually very well tolerated with oral pain medication. 

As an outpatient surgery, you can come to our San Francisco offices or . You can be back home that night, well on your way to recovery from your migraines. Dr. Peled has performed hundreds of these procedures. Our testimonials page is filled with patients thanking Dr. Peled for changing their lives for the better.

If you are in Los Angeles, Rancho Palos Verdes, Pacific Palisades, Burbank, Alhambra, Carson, Glendale, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lancaster, Pasadena, Pomona, Santa Clarita, Santa Monica, West Covina, or any of the surrounding areas and are suffering from migraines, we can help.

Call Dr. Peled today at 415-751-0583 and visit to learn more about how peripheral nerve surgery can help you with your headaches. Headache surgery in Los Angeles can be a phone call away.

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Los Angeles Migraine and Headache Surgery

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We are asked quite a bit whether we will see patients from Los Angeles for migraine surgery, or if we’ll see out-of-town patients as well. Of course we do!  Anyone may be able to achieve significant and lasting relief no matter where they call home! We have helped patients from all across the United States, and as far away as India and Brazil. We are excited to help people from all over the globe as peripheral nerve surgery is an area to which I have dedicated a large portion of my practice and is something about which I remain very passionate. We wish to extend an invitation to everyone anywhere to look us up and decide for themselves whether we might be able to help to reduce or eliminate their chronic headaches with peripheral nerve surgery.

I have performed hundreds of decompression procedures on nerves for chronic headaches with high success rates. Many of these people had been living with their headaches for decades and had resigned themselves to a life of chronic pain despite medication. Happily, we proved that was not the case. Furthermore, because we see so many foreign and out of town patients, we have developed a system to help make your overall experience as seamless as possible. We can assist with travel planning, lodging, transportation to and from the operating room and even post-operative nursing care if required. In addition, Dr. Peled is available for initial record review and evaluations via Skype or Google+ to help determine if a trip from home is a worthwhile endeavor. Finally, because post-operative follow-up is an extremely important part of the surgical experience and critical to achieving optimal outcomes, we use these same modalities to keep tabs on our patients after they have gone home and remain available to discuss issues with your local treating physicians if needed. This important time can be hard for patients as well as doctors that can't see their patients directly, but our practice has refined this process to ask the right questions and determine if any further action is needed.

So if you suffer from chronic headaches, please visit us at or call us at 415-751-0583 or 925-933-5700 to find out if we can reduce or eliminate your migraines. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Dr. Peled Speaks at Plastic Surgery The Meeting 2016

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Dr. Ziv M. Peled, M.D. was recently a lecturer, injector and surgical trainer at the largest plastic surgery meeting in the world. Plastic Surgery The Meeting 2016, held in Los Angeles, CA in September and sponsored by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, is the premier meeting for plastic surgeons globally. Dr. Peled gave four talks in two sessions over two days on subjects ranging from occipital nerve surgery to coding for headache surgery. The talks were well received and are likely to be repeated in future meetings and to include an expanded curriculum on additional aspects of this exciting treatment option for chronic headaches refractory to conventional therapy.

For more information on how headache surgery can help reduce your "migraine" symptoms, visit or call 415-751-0583 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Peled.

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Migraine Nerve Decompression With Peripheral Nerve Surgery


What exactly is meant by the term, ‘peripheral nerve surgery’? Peripheral nerve surgery specifically refers to operations performed on nerves within the peripheral nervous system, in other words those nerves located outside of the brain and spinal cord (aka the central nervous system). It also helps to think of these nerves as being located in the periphery of the body such as the arms and legs although it also includes nerves located in trunk and scalp/face regions. Pathology causing problems within the peripheral nervous system can take many forms. There can be pressure on a nerve as it passes through its normal route from the brain and spinal cord to its final location, for example at the toes or back of the scalp. There may be pressure on a nerve from a tumor within the nerve itself or from a tumor external to the nerve. A nerve may have been cut from a prior accident or prior surgical procedure. There can also be injuries to nerves that have been excessively stretched such as may occur following a whiplash-type of injury.

The procedures performed on these peripheral nerves ultimately depend upon the pathology in question. If there is external pressure on the nerves causing irritation, this external pressure is relieved. An example of this type of procedure is that performed during a nerve decompression to treat chronic headaches. If there is a tumor within the nerve, it can often be removed and the nerve preserved or in other cases reconstructed to preserve sensation and function.   If a nerve has been cut, it may be able to be repaired surgically.

Plastic surgeons with peripheral nerve experience have been performing peripheral nerve surgery for years to correct a common and well-known malady known as carpal tunnel syndrome, where the surrounding tissue pinches the one of the main nerves at the wrist. These surgeons decompress or un-pinch the nerve by adjusting the tissue surrounding it, leaving the nerve intact. This procedure has a very high success rate. Recent research has demonstrated that just like at the wrist, there are nerves within the head and neck that are compressed and that decompressing them, can produce significant or even complete relief from chronic headaches that can be permanent. The results with these latter procedures have been quite dramatic. In one study out of Georgetown University, data from 190 patients with chronic pain/headaches in the back of the head who underwent surgical decompression were analyzed. One year after surgery, the patients were evaluated and over 80% of patients reported at least 50% pain relief and over 43% of patients experienced complete relief of their headaches! In February 2011, the five-year results of such procedures were published in the medical journal, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. This study demonstrated that five years following their headache operation, 88% of patients were still reporting greater than 50% improvement in their headache symptoms and 29% were completely headache-free!

To find out more about these exciting developments, please visit or call us at (415)751-0583 to schedule a formal consultation.

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How long does recovery take following nerve decompression surgery for chronic headaches?


How long does recovery take following nerve decompression surgery for chronic headaches? The answer to that question can be quite variable and depends on a number of parameters, but a few general principles apply.

How long does recovery take following nerve decompression surgery for chronic headaches? The answer to that question can be quite variable and depends on a number of parameters, but a few general principles apply. First and foremost, each patient is different in terms of their tolerance for discomfort. What may be a 9 out of 10 pain to one person may only be a 5 out of 10 pain to another person. Secondly, the number/distribution of the nerves which are decompressed is also unique to each individual. Obviously, if someone has 8 nerves decompressed in one procedure they are likely to have more discomfort than someone who only had one nerve decompressed. Finally, surgical technique and appropriate post-operative care are also important in achieving optimal results with minimal discomfort and downtime.

Generally speaking, most patients have mild-to-moderate discomfort following surgery. Pain medication and anti-nausea medication are prescribed to help patients manage these symptoms in the first few days-weeks following their procedure. The comment I hear most often from patients describing the first few weeks following their operation is that the chronic headache-type pain that they’ve always had is now gone, but that they now have discomfort at the site of the operation, which is expected. After a few weeks, this incisional discomfort diminishes and patients really start to feel great. I just saw a patient today who was 3 weeks post-decompression of both greater occipital nerves and the left lesser occipital nerve. She used to have severe headaches often lasting hours and even several days at a time and which would come on every other or every day. Over the intervening 3 weeks, she only reported 3 minor headaches which lasted a few minutes. Her surgical pain had diminished to a point where she had not required any narcotic medication after the 5 day following her procedure. Now that her incisional discomfort was at a minimum, she stated that she felt like a new person. The only restriction following her operation was avoiding strenuous exercise for 3-4 weeks. After that, her activity level can gradually be increased to its baseline level over a period of another 2-3 weeks. Patients may eat and drink whatever they like immediately following surgery and can shower in 48 hours. This type of response is fairly typical among my patient population. There are almost never any sutures to remove as they are all dissolvable. After a few weeks, a new you!

To find out more about peripheral nerve surgery and how it may help your migraines, please visit http://peledmigrainesurgery.comor call us at (415)751-0583 to schedule a formal consultation.

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"Cell Phone Neck" and Occipital Neuralgia

I was recently asked an interesting question: “If you have bad posture and have a decompression procedure, won’t the results eventually diminish as the bad posture would re-injure the nerves?” There was actually a recent, non-scientific article in a different publication ( which suggested that posture secondary to cell phone use was a factor in the development of ON in some people.  As you might suspect, I don’t know of anyone who would argue with the concept that good posture is important for any number of reasons.  However, can it cause ON to recur after an adequate decompression procedure?  Not likely.

As the article above suggests, even a little flexion or extension in the neck can lead to significant increases in pressure on the nuchal structures.  The reason is that many of these structures, such as the nerves, pass through very small spaces on their way to the scalp.  When those spaces which are tight to begin with are narrowed even just a little bit, the increase in pressure on the nerve can be dramatic.  However, it is not the bending or as to the point here, the bad posture that causes the neuralgia, it is the tight space becoming tighter.  When these narrow spaces are opened up, the reverse is also true - the pressure on the nerves can dramatically decrease.  The two pictures of the greater occipital nerve below illustrate the concept (warning- not for the easily grossed out).

                           BEFORE                                                                     AFTER


In the picture on the left, you can see the greater occipital nerve (long arrow) bulging out of the semispinalis muscle (short arrow) - a well-described compression point for this nerve. After removal of a small amount of said muscle (the upper and lower edges of which are denoted by the limbs of the “V”) you can see the GON more clearly.  What is also dramatic is that the nerve appears much smaller even though the picture on the right is at slightly higher magnification.  This all happens within a few minutes in the OR.  Anyone who has ever tied a rubber band tightly around the base of their finger for a minute and had a nice purple digit knows exactly what happens when the rubber band is released. The key here is balance.  As a surgeon I want to make enough space so that the nerve can now move freely with almost any position or posture, but not so much space that I remove too much muscle and cause some imbalance or weakness.  Moreover, when patients move their heads post-operatively, which I insist my patients do gently right away, the gliding prevents significant scar formation and re-narrowing of these spaces. Hence, if done correctly, persistent poor posture following decompression should not cause the ON to return. Hope that helps.

For more information, or to make an appointment, call Peled Migraine Surgery at 415-751-0583 and visit to learn more about migraine relief through surgery. 

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