Peled Migraine Surgery Blog

Information and knowledge about migraine relief surgery.


Migraine Surgery Helps Chronic Headaches


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.

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A Different Way to Think About Chronic Headaches

A Different Way to Think About Chronic Headaches

Chronic headaches represent an enormous medical problem both worldwide and in the US.  Migraines alone represent the most common primary headache disorder for which people seek treatment. It is estimated that over 36 million people suffer from migraines in America1, representing about 11.5% of the population or more than one in 10 people. Chronic migraines are thought to affect 2% of the population or over 7 million people in the US2.  If you factor in both direct and indirect (e.g. days of bedrest) costs to the healthcare system, you are looking at between $10-$30 billion dollars in annual expenditure3,4.  Moreover and specific to migraines, it has been shown that the health-related quality of life of people suffering from this type of debilitating headache approximates that of patients suffering from congestive heart failure, high blood pressure or diabetes5.  Interestingly migraines are primarily defined and diagnoses made by their clinical characteristics.  In other words, headache patients are usually diagnosed as suffering from migraines if they have recurrent attacks, a pro-drome (e.g. warning signal), an aura, a headache and a post-drome (e.g. after effects).  While many patients can relate to these symptoms, not every patient is the same. Specifically, while other types of headaches have slightly different characteristics, there are similarities in symptoms with migraines and sometimes, patients can have symptoms characteristic of more than one type of headache.  In those cases, how should we diagnose the patient? 

In my view, a different way to think about headaches and perhaps to classify them is by what the underlying etiology (i.e. cause) is thought to be.  I am a firm believer in doing the most conservative thing possible that would give you the best result and along those lines, an evaluation by a neurologist and/or headache specialist with a careful work up is a critical first step.  Appropriate imaging (e.g. MRI of the brain, cervical spine, etc.) as necessary and trials of medications are often the first lines of evaluation and treatment, usually with non-operative interventions as adjunctive measures.  Examples of such adjunctive modalities are physical therapy, therapeutic massage, acupuncture, biofeedback, etc.  However, as we note above, there are so many people that suffer from debilitating, chronic headaches that even if only 10% of people fail such measures (the number is likely much higher), then we have millions of people who continue to suffer greatly.  In these instances, we often have to “think outside the box”.  There continues to be a growing body of literature which suggests that some people suffer headaches as a result of peripheral nerve compression in the head and neck region and who find relief from nerve decompression or even neurectomy (i.e. transection of the nerve) with muscle implantation. 

Given that many people who fail traditional treatment as outlined above have been given the diagnosis of migraines (or migraine variants), perhaps it is our diagnoses that are incorrect.  Many of those same people are successfully treated with surgical decompression. Perhaps, many people who have been diagnosed with “migraines” actually have neuralgia.  This word comes from a combination of neur - meaning nerve and algia - meaning pain and hence the word itself literally means nerve pain.  The question is which nerve is causing the pain and what can you do about it?  Fortunately, there are good answers to these questions, but the diagnosis of neuralgia must be on the radar screen of the evaluating physician.  Hence, if traditional modalities have been unsuccessful or only partially successful, don’t lose hope!

  1. Lipton, R. B., Bigal, M. E., Diamond, M., et al. Migraine prevalence, disease burden, and the need for preventive therapy. Neurology 2007;68:343-349.
  2. Schwedt TJ, Chromic Migraine. BMJ 2014; 348: 1416-1427.
  3. Goldberg, L. D. The cost of migraine and its treatment. The American Journal of Managed Care 2005;11:S62-67.
  4. Hu, X. H., Markson, L. E., Lipton, R. B., Stewart, W. F., Berger, M. L. Burden of migraine in the United States: disability and economic costs. Archives of Internal Medicine 1999;159:813-818.
  5. Turner-Bowker, D. M., Bayliss, M. S., Ware, J. E., Jr., Kosinski, M. Usefulness of the SF-8 Health Survey for comparing the impact of migraine and other conditions. Quality of Life Research : An International Journal of Quality of Life Aspects of Treatment, Care and Rehabilitation 2003;12:1003-1012.
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Recent Comments
Dear Kathy, I don't do pulsed RFA so I don't have a specific comment on how it works, but my understanding is the same as yours i... Read More
Thursday, 12 April 2018 10:26
I do think that, in general, many conservative modalities, so long as they don't injure the nerves further with too aggressive an ... Read More
Friday, 13 April 2018 10:39


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