Fears and Misconceptions About Headache/Migraine Surgery - Part 1
Many patients have told me about their fear and anxiety regarding an upcoming surgical procedure. Having undergone several operations as a patient myself, I can empathize with these emotions and often tell patients that it is completely normal to feel this way before going “under the knife”. I also try to re-assure them and their loved ones that they will be taken care of as best as possible before, during and after their procedure. However, it struck me that there are often many misconceptions about headache/migraine surgery that heighten this anxiety so I though I would address them in a few blog posts. It would be impossible to discuss every possible misconception I’ve heard, but hopefully some of these explanations will help.
- Misconception 1 - These operations are like brain or spinal surgery. This is a common misconception because we are operating on nerves in the head and neck region. However, there are numerous nerves in those areas of the body that are not within the skull or spinal column. Because these nerves are located outside of the central nervous system (i.e. the brain and spinal cord) they fall under the field of peripheral nerve surgery, much like carpal tunnel release. In fact, most patients have had numerous imaging studies of their brain and spinal cord which have revealed nothing in those areas that their initial treating physicians think would account for their symptoms. And much like carpal tunnel syndrome, many of these nerves can be compressed at certain anatomic points which fortunately, can be released during a set of outpatient surgical procedures that are safe and very effective.
- Misconception 2 – Cutting a piece of muscle in my face or neck will leave me paralyzed. I have heard this misconception many times and it is simply untrue. The amount of muscle we remove when we perform a decompression of say the greater occipital nerve is about the size of a thumbnail in a muscle almost as big as the bicep. Therefore, it is akin to performing a muscle biopsy, a commonly performed operation. If you think about it, the target nerves in a headache operation are quite small (which is why they are often unable to be imaged well even with MRI) and therefore the space we need to make for them doesn’t have to be enormous. I have yet to have a patient return to the office with any decreased muscle function. While complications such as paralysis can occur with any operation on a nerve, proper technique and a thorough knowledge of anatomy makes this possibility quite rare. It is therefore important, for this and many other reasons, to seek out an experienced peripheral nerve surgeon for your headache/migraine operation (see blog post on “How To Choose A Headache Surgeon”)
- Misconception 3 – Cutting any nerve will always lead to more pain. If I only had a dollar for every time I’ve heard this sentence. It is often something that patients will hear from their non-surgical physicians and is simply untrue. In fact, one of the most common surgical procedures performed is cutting of a nerve between the toes for a condition known as “Morton’s Neuroma”. If this misconception were true, these operations would no longer exist. It is also a commonly accepted peripheral nerve surgical dictum, that a neuroma must be removed and the nerve either reconstructed or the nerve end buried in the local muscle. With these maneuvers, a painful neuroma is very unlikely to form. While there is always the risk of increased pain when operating on any sensory nerve (even the one in carpal tunnel releases), with proper technique and a thorough knowledge of anatomy the likelihood of this issue is very low.
Hope these explanations help to some degree. In a future blog post, I plan to address other misconceptions that seem to strike fear in the hearts of those considering an operation for relief of their chronic headache pain. To learn more about Migraine Surgery, visit www.peledmigrainesurgery.com today or call 415-751-0583 to make an appointment.