Back pain. Almost 80% of us will suffer from it at some point in our lives. Whilst for most it will only be for a few days to a week, for others the pain can go on for years. In fact, chronic low back pain rose from occurring in around 4% of the population in 1992 to over 10% of the population in 2006. That’s a massive increased and means millions of Americans suffer at the hands of chronic back pain each and every day. As the opioid epidemic rages across America, physicians are looking for new or “out of fashion” alternative therapies to treat the pain. Luckily, a new study has shown that a technique known as radiofrequency ablation works very well for back pain. Is this the breakthrough chronic pain patients needed?
What is radiofrequency ablation?
Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure done to the nerves in your back. A small electrical current is applied to certain nerves that supply pain signals into the spinal cord and up into the brain. This electrical current effectively stops the pain signals from being transmitted, and so can drastically reduced pain felt by patients. Lots of chronic pain conditions can be treated by the procedure, including (but not limited to):
- Spinal arthritis
- Lumbar radiculopathy
- Cervical radiculopathy
- Complex regional pain syndrome
- Peripheral nerve entrapment
The procedure does not normally hurt. Whilst needles are inserted into the back, this is only as uncomfortable as having injections or your blood was taken. Occasionally after the procedure, there can be soreness around the site of injection, but this should subside quickly. There can be a complication, but these are rare and will be discussed with you by the doctor.
Does radiofrequency ablation work?
There have been a number of studies done on the procedure. A recent study published in “The Spine Journal” looks at the effect of radiofrequency ablation of the basivertebral nerve in patients with chronic low back pain. The researchers from the USA took 300 patients who were successfully treated and followed them up at three months and then two years after the operation. On a back pain questionnaire known as the ODI, patients scored significantly lower. These results were followed by and maintained at the two-year mark – showing that the treatment is both effective in the short term and long term. They conclude
“[radiofrequency ablation] is safe, well tolerated, and effective for the treatment of chronic low back pain in this patient population.”
This procedure is offered across the United States, but not normally by family practitioners that often treat chronic back pain. To have the procedure done, you will need to go to specialist centre that has highly skilled doctors. If you are looking for an alternative to opioid medication to treat your chronic back pain, radiofrequency ablation could be an effective long-term solution.