Dysesthetic pain in patients with syringomyelia

Neurosurgery. 1996 May;38(5):940-6; discussion 946-7. doi: 10.1097/00006123-199605000-00017.


Dysesthethic pain is a common complaint of patients with syringomyelia, traumatic paraplegia, and various myelopathic conditions. Because cavitary lesions of the spinal cord can be defined with good resolution by magnetic resonance imaging, syringomyelia provides a potential model for examining anatomic correlates of central pain. In this study, a syndrome of segmental dysesthesias, characterized by burning pain, hyperesthesia, and a variable incidence of trophic changes, was described by 51 of 137 patients (37%) with syringomyelia at the time of clinical presentation. Complete magnetic resonance scans, including axial images, demonstrated extension of the syrinx into the dorsolateral quadrant of the spinal cord on the same side and at the level of pain in 43 of 51 patients (84%). Surgical treatment of syringomyelia resulted in the relief or improvement of dysesthetic pain in 22 of 37 patients (59%), but 15 patients (41%) reported no improvement or an intensification of pain despite collapse of the syrinx. Postoperative dysesthetic pain was often a disabling complaint that responded poorly to medical therapy, including analgesics, sedatives, antiepileptics, antispasmodics, and anti-inflammatory agents. In most cases, there was a gradual improvement of symptoms, although six patients continued to complain of pain 24 to 74 months postoperatively. Prompt but transient relief was achieved in two of two patients with regional sympathetic blocks, and prolonged relief was achieved in one patient by stellate ganglionectomy. We conclude that painful dysesthesias can be caused by a disturbance of pain-modulating centers in the dorsolateral quadrant of the spinal cord and have certain causalgia-like features that respond in an unpredictable way to surgical collapse of the syrinx.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement*
  • Paresthesia / physiopathology*
  • Paresthesia / surgery
  • Postoperative Complications / physiopathology
  • Postoperative Complications / therapy
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord / surgery
  • Syringomyelia / etiology
  • Syringomyelia / physiopathology*
  • Syringomyelia / surgery
  • Treatment Outcome