Object: The objective of the study was to quantify the improvement in pain levels for patients who have undergone surgery for intramedullary spinal cord cavernous malformations (SCCMs).
Methods: The author reviewed medical records of patients who underwent surgery for an intramedullary SCCM between 2003 and 2010. Numerical pain scores (range 0-10) were recorded preoperatively and at follow-up. The follow-up period exceeded 1 year. Neurological status and subjective outcomes were assessed. Each patient underwent follow-up MR imaging.
Results: Five patients were identified with SCCMs who underwent surgery: 4 with thoracic and 1 with cervical lesions. Patients had been conservatively managed for an average of 5 years prior to surgery, and none had a history of acute hemorrhage or neurological deterioration during the observation period. The primary indication for surgery in each patient was pain, although 4 of 5 patients had some evidence of myelopathy on examination. Pain improved from a mean preoperative score of 8.6 to mean score of 2.0 (p < 0.01) at 1 month. Pain scores then increased to 3.7 (p < 0.01) at 1 year. All patients had some improvement in pain. No new motor weakness was noted, but all patients had increased symptoms of posterior-column dysfunction and numbness after surgery.
Conclusions: Spinal cord intramedullary cavernous malformations are increasingly being diagnosed early with patients presenting with mostly pain symptoms. Removal of the lesion is reliably associated with improvement in pain scores but often the pain improvement is transient. While long-term worsening of pain scores occurs, at 1-year follow-up, patients reported pain scores were improved over preoperative scores. In all patients some degree of postoperative posterior-column dysfunction was present. Some of the immediate pain relief may be due to analgesia related to the myelotomy of newly described posterior column pain pathways. In patients with severe pain, surgery to remove SCCMs reduced the overall pain level at 1 year.