The neurosurgical treatment of craniofacial pain syndromes: current surgical indications and techniques

Neurol Sci. 2019 May;40(Suppl 1):159-168. doi: 10.1007/s10072-019-03789-4.


Craniofacial pain syndromes are comprised of multiple pathological entities resulting in pain referred to the scalp, face, or deeper cranial structures. In a small subset of patients affected by those syndromes, pharmacological and physical therapies fail in alleviating pain. In some of those refractory patients surgical procedures aimed at relieving pain are indicated and have been adopted with variable results and safety profiles. In this review, the authors describe craniofacial pain syndromes that most commonly fail to respond to pharmacological therapies and may be amenable to tailored surgical procedures. In particular, trigeminal, glossopharyngeal, and occipital neuralgias are considered, as well as some primary headache syndromes such as cluster headache, short unilateral neuralgiform headache with conjunctival injection and tearing/short unilateral neuralgiform headache with autonomic symptoms, and migraine. Surgical techniques, including the implantation of deep brain or peripheral nerve electrodes with subsequent chronic stimulation, microvascular decompression of neurovascular conflicts, and percutaneous lesioning of neural structures are described. Finally, surgical indications, outcomes, and safety of these procedures are presented.

Keywords: Cluster headache; Deep brain stimulation; Glossopharyngeal neuralgia; Microvascular decompression; Migraine; Occipital nerve stimulation; Occipital neuralgia; SUNA; SUNCT; Trigeminal neuralgia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Facial Neuralgia / diagnosis
  • Facial Neuralgia / surgery*
  • Headache / pathology
  • Headache / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Microvascular Decompression Surgery / methods
  • Migraine Disorders / pathology
  • Migraine Disorders / surgery
  • Neurosurgical Procedures*
  • SUNCT Syndrome / diagnosis
  • SUNCT Syndrome / surgery*
  • Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias / diagnosis
  • Trigeminal Autonomic Cephalalgias / surgery*