RSNA 2017: Can interventional radiology knock out back pain?

For those with lower back pain, trouble can come from anywhere—a misstep on the stairs, the wrong chair, even the weather. But findings presented Nov. 29 at RSNA 2017 in Chicago may offer a glimmer of hope.

Alessandro Napoli, MD, PhD, an interventional radiologist at Sapienza University of Rome, discussed an image-guided pulsed radiofrequency treatment that left 65 of 80 patients pain free one year after a single 10-minute treatment.

Napoli and colleagues aimed to address pain caused by compressed or herniated disks, which the cushion between vertebrae impinges on nearby nerves.

"The nerve root is a sensitive structure that when pinched becomes inflamed and causes pain," said lead investigator Napoli, in a release. "The body reacts with muscle constriction, which decreases the distance between vertebrae, and a vicious cycle is created."

The procedure involved inserting a needle, added by CT imaging, to the location of a bulging disc or nerve root. A probe then delivers pulsed radiofrequency energy for 10 minutes. Napoli and his team treated 80 patients who had experienced at least three months of lower back pain. After a single session, 81 percent were pain free after one year. Six others required a second session.

"Following this treatment, inflammation and pain go away. With relaxation of the muscles, the distance between the vertebrae returns," Napoli said.

The therapy has the potential to reduce invasive surgeries for those dealing with lower back pain. Additionally, patients did not report any side effects with the image-guided treatment.

"There's a big gap between conservative treatments for disc compression and herniation and surgical repair, which can lead to infection, bleeding and a long recovery period," Napoli said.