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What Is Stereotactic Radiosurgery?

Stereotactic surgery uses focused radiation to damage nerve tissue (trigeminal nerve) to prevent or disrupt pain signals in your brain. We can use stereotactic radiosurgery to treat trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that causes facial pain. With stereotactic radiosurgery, we send radiation to the trigeminal nerve root to disrupt pain signals.

Why Choose University of Utah Health?

U of U Health specialists offer comprehensive treatment for all types of facial pain. Our multispecialty team includes neurosurgeons, interventional pain specialists, and neurologists. Our providers are members of national organizations including the Facial Pain Association. Because of this involvement, our patients have easy access to peer support groups and extra resources.

Many of our specialists see a high number of patients with facial pain, increasing our experience and expertise. We offer the full range of treatments for trigeminal neuralgia and have the advanced knowledge needed to treat other types of craniofacial pain. We offer coordinated, comprehensive treatment.

Benefits of Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiosurgery is an excellent option for patients who aren’t ideal candidates for more invasive surgeries. This includes people who shouldn’t stop taking blood thinners to undergo surgery. Benefits include:

  • faster recovery,
  • less time in the hospital (same-day discharge), and
  • no surgical incision.

Candidate Criteria for Stereotactic Radiosurgery

We typically offer surgery for trigeminal neuralgia when nerve pain doesn’t improve with medication or medication side effects become too much to handle. You may be a candidate for stereotactic radiosurgery if you:

  • have trigeminal neuralgia secondary to another condition, such as multiple sclerosis, or
  • have classical trigeminal neuralgia and have other medical conditions that could increase your risk of experiencing a complication with more invasive treatments.

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Stereotactic Radiosurgery Procedure: What to Expect

On the day of the procedure, your surgical team will use pins to attach a frame to your head. The frame ensures that you don’t move your head and expose healthy tissue to radiation during treatment. Then, while you have the frame on, the team will use a computed tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) taken before the procedure to map out exactly where to send the radiation.

You will receive local anesthesia so you don’t feel any pain from the head frame. You may also receive medication to help you remain calm and relaxed during treatment.

During stereotactic radiosurgery, you will lie on a table. Your radiation therapist will position the radiation machine and send several precise doses of radiation to your trigeminal nerve. Stereotactic radiosurgery takes 30 to 60 minutes to perform.

After the Procedure

After the procedure, your provider will remove the headframe. You will stay in an observation room with a nurse for a short period. As soon as you and the nurse feel comfortable, you can return home.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery Recovery

You can resume your usual activities as soon as you feel ready. You may feel fatigued for the rest of the day or a few days. You’ll feel some facial numbness over the next several weeks that should go away over time.

Stereotactic radiosurgery results aren’t immediate. It can take several weeks or months to feel nerve pain relief. You’ll continue taking your medications for trigeminal neuralgia until your provider tells you to begin tapering off them.

Long-Term Side Effects of Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Most people don’t have any long-term side effects of stereotactic radiosurgery for trigeminal neuralgia. This treatment uses precise, focused radiation doses and has fewer side effects than many other types of radiation therapy.

Success Rates of Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiosurgery has a one-year success rate of around 65 percent. We may offer radiosurgery again or another treatment such as percutaneous rhizotomy if nerve pain returns.

Schedule an Evaluation with Our Neurosurgeons

If you would like to find out more about trigeminal neuralgia surgery, it’s best to get a referral from your primary care provider or neurologist. Your referring provider will run tests to help our neurosurgeons understand your symptoms and needs when you come in for your appointment.

If you don’t have a referral, you may request an appointment online, request a virtual consultation via MyChart, or call 801-585-6065.

To refer a patient to our neurosurgery team, fill out our referral form or call 801-585-6087.