In general, health care providers and patients turn to surgery for pain relief only when other, simpler approaches have failed. Some conditions that cause chronic pain can be effectively treated with surgery; others cannot. For example, surgery can completely eliminate back or radiating pain in 80 percent to 90 percent of people with severe disk disease, which presses on a nerve in the spine. Yet surgery rarely improves back pain caused by muscle spasm or back pain that has no known cause, even if a minor disk problem is present.
Rarely, patients may be offered surgery to cut nerves or remove damaged areas of the brain involved with pain signals. Another approach is to implant tiny electrical wires (electrodes) into the spinal cord or brain. These devices provide pain relief when the patient turns them on. However, these aggressive treatments don't always work. They should be considered a last resort in cases of severe chronic pain, such as cancer pain.