Pain relief after cervical ganglionectomy (C2 and C3) for the treatment of medically intractable occipital neuralgia

Feridun Acar, Jonathan Miller, Kiarash J Golshani, Zvi H Israel, Shirley McCartney, Kim J Burchiel
Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery 2008, 86 (2): 106-12
Occipital neuralgia (ON) presents a diagnostic challenge because of the wide variety of symptoms, surgical findings, and postsurgical outcomes. Surgical removal of the second (C2) or third (C3) cervical sensory dorsal root ganglion is an option to treat ON. The goal of this study was to evaluate the short-term and the long-term efficacy of these procedures for management of cervical and occipital neuropathic pain. Twenty patients (mean age 48.7 years) were identified who had undergone C2 and/or C3 ganglionectomies for intractable occipital pain and a retrospective chart review undertaken. Patients were interviewed regarding pain relief, pain relief duration, functional status, medication usage and procedure satisfaction, preoperatively, immediately postoperative, and at follow-up (mean 42.5 months). C2, C3 and consecutive ganglionectomies at both levels were performed on 4, 5, and 11 patients, respectively. All patients reported preoperative pain relief following cervical nerve blocks. Average visual analog scale scores were 9.4 preoperatively and 2.6 immediately after procedure. Ninety-five percent of patients reported short-term pain relief (<3 months). In 13 patients (65%), pain returned after an average of 12 months (C2 ganglionectomy) and 8.4 months (C3 ganglionectomy). Long-term results were excellent, moderate and poor in 20, 40 and 40% of patients, respectively. Cervical ganglionectomy offers relief to a majority of patients, immediately after procedure, but the effect is short lived. Nerve blocks are helpful in predicting short-term success, but a positive block result does not necessarily predict long-term benefit and therefore cannot justify surgery by itself. However, since 60% of patients report excellent-moderate results, cervical ganglionectomy continues to have a role in the treatment of intractable ON.

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