What is a Cordotomy?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Cordotomies are surgical procedures that are used to alleviate recurring pain. The cordotomy is usually performed at some point along the spine, depending on where the pain is originating. In many cases, this type of procedure can be helpful for patients with cancer and other terminal diseases, since the surgery can be employed in place of pain killers to minimize discomfort and allow the patient to be relatively pain free during those last days.

A spinal cordotomy involves severing certain fibers in the spinal cord that control pain perception. The fibers are cut then cauterized to prevent infection. The effect is instantaneous, allowing the patient to be free of the constant pain that existed prior to the surgery. In recent years, the recovery time from the procedure has been minimized due to the increasing use of laser cordotomy.

Along with easing pain for terminal patients, the cordotomy can also be employed to ease perceptions of uncomfortable temperature in some area of the body. For example, if a patient constantly suffers with a sense of extreme heat or cold in a leg or arm, this type of surgical procedure will quickly stop that sense of extreme temperature. For patients who know how distressing these hot and cold spots can be, the ability to be free of that feeling makes a huge improvement in the quality of life.


The procedure itself is usually done under a local anesthesia when laser technology is used. However, when the cordotomy is combined with the performance of a laminectomy, the patient is generally rendered unconscious, since the point of entry is much larger. When possible, surgeons prefer to go with what is known as a percutaneous cordotomy, since there is less risk of an infection and the patient will recover from the procedure quicker.

Over time, this surgical procedure has proven useful in helping patients deal with pain throughout the body. It is possible to undergo a vocal or cervical cordotomy. One recent application of the procedure has to do with easing pain in the general area around the lungs and heart. This is often the case when there is a need to ease pain that is associated with terminal lung cancer. In terms of cordotomy side effects, the most common has to do with some lingering sense of tingling or numbness. However, most patients find that coping with these minor sensations are much easier than the discomfort they dealt with prior to undergoing the procedure.


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Post 2

@SZapper - I don't know what your friends specific problem is but hopefully one day soon he'll get some relief.

I actually had a family member get this surgery a little while back. They did suffer from some numbness and tingling, but compared to the pain they were in before, it was a huge improvement. And the surgery wasn't very invasive, so the recovery didn't take too long. Cordotomy was definitely a good choice in that case.

Post 1

I think this sounds awesome. I have a good friend who struggles with constant back pain. He isn't terminally ill so I don't think he's a candidate for this surgery.

However, he really dislikes taking all the pain medicine. It makes him feel fuzzy and it makes it hard for him to work sometimes.

I feel like this surgery would be really good for a cancer patient in the end stages of their life. They could be free from pain without having to be all doped up on pain relievers.

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