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When the Pain Won’t Stop: Providing Relief for Patients with Severe Facial Pain

Facial pain is often felt along the branches of the trigeminal nerve.When you consider all the frightening disorders that neurosurgeons treat, facial pain doesn’t sound so scary.

But by the time a patient makes it to the Neurosurgical Pain Center at Columbia University Medical Center/New York Presbyterian Hospital, they have likely endured disabling pain for years.Even after multiple treatments from multiple specialists, the pain persists. It is a scary diagnosis indeed.

It is a scary diagnosis indeed.

Facial pain is caused by a variety of situations ranging from infection to vascular compression of a nerve. The pain can be so severe that it overshadows everything else in the patient’s life. When treatments fail and there is no end to the pain in sight, it can be distressing.

Dr. Christopher J. Winfree of the Neurosurgical Pain Center cares for patients who have found no relief from their facial pain. Because there are so many causes of facial pain, Dr. Winfree customizes the treatment for each of his patients. For some, surgery is a good choice. For others, an option called neurostimulation can provide relief.

With neurostimulation, Dr. Winfree places an electrode that delivers a mild electrical impulse near the patient’s pain. This blocks the perception of pain for the patient. This treatment has been around since the 1960s.

Because Dr. Winfree specializes in neurosurgical pain, he has years of experience treating patients with neurostimulation. He recently published a review of his work to shed light on the effectiveness of the treatment. The study, published in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery, reviews the treatment of 35 patients with neurostimulation.

After a trial of neurostimulation, 15 of the 35 patients had permanent electrodes placed. They all received pain relief from the treatment and 90 percent of them still reported positive results after one year.

This review shows that patients who have not benefited from other treatments can find much needed relief with neurostimulation.

The study also points the way for further research. Specifically, research into which patients will benefit from neurostimulation is needed. Currently, neurosurgeons are unable to predict which patients will find relief from the treatment.

In addition, Dr. Winfree observed that a break from neurostimulation may help when the response to treatment starts to decline. This observation may provide helpful treatment information with further study.

Winfree8262_1Facial pain can be a frightening diagnosis indeed. The focused specialization of the surgeons at Columbia allows physicians like Dr. Winfree to accumulate significant experience with the most severe cases. This allows them to provide a body of knowledge that is valuable for neurosurgeons across the globe.

You can learn more about Dr. Christopher J. Winfree on his bio page here.

patient journey

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