Ron Pawl

Surgical Neurology International 2013 4(6):330-333

Chronic pain syndromes either have no underlying organic explanation, or include patients whose chronic pain complaints (without focal deficits or significant radiographic findings) were not alleviated by surgery (in 80% of cases). Patients with chronic pain typically "turn off" members of the medical community; they are often "written off" as malingerers or psychiatric cases. The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory often shows elevations on the hysteria and hypochondriasis scales; together these constitute somatization defined as patients converting emotional distress into bodily complaints. Depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorders are also often encountered. Secondary gain also plays a critical role in patients with chronic pain syndromes (e.g., includes avoiding onerous tasks/work, or rewards opioid-seeking behaviors). Tertiary gain pertains to the physicians' financial rewards for administering ineffective and repeated treatment of these patients, while validating for the patient that there is truly something organically wrong with them. Self-mutilation (part of Munchausen Syndrome/Fictitious Disorders) also brings these chronic pain patients to the attention of the medical community. They are also often involved in the legal system (e.g., workmen's compensation or tort action) that in the United States, unfortunately financially rewards "pain and suffering." The main purpose of this commentary is to reeducate spinal surgeons about the pitfalls of operating on patients with chronic pain syndromes in the absence of significant neurological deficits or radiographic findings, as such "last ditch surgery" invariably fails.