The majority of patients were pain-free after receiving a new image-guided pulsed radiofrequency treatment for sciatica and low back pain, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America. The study pointing to a more promising therapy that could eliminate back pain of people who endure it.

Lower back pain is considered a widespread problem, affecting more than 80% of the population at some point throughout their life and responsible for the majority of job-related disabilities. A major cause of low back pain that can spread to the legs is a compressed and herniated disk, whereby the rubbery cushion between vertebrae disturbs and comes into contact with nearby nerves.

While back pain is typically short-term, in around 20% of those suffering acute low back pain, it progresses into chronic low back pain which persists for a year or more.  

"The nerve root is a sensitive structure that when pinched becomes inflamed and causes pain,” said Dr. Alessandro Napoli, Sapienza University of Rome. "The body reacts with muscle constriction, which decreases the distance between vertebrae, and a vicious cycle is created."

The study enrolled 80 patients suffering from at least three months of low back pain because of a herniated disk which failed to respond to traditional therapies, including exercise and medication.

The patients were subjected to a less invasive interventional radiology procedure, where a needle is directed toward the position of the bulging disc and nerve root, with the help of CT imaging. Next, a probe is inserted through the tip of a needle and pulsed radiofrequency energy is delivered to the affected area for 10 min.  

The results of the study showed that 81% of patients treated were pain-free after one year following the 10-min treatment session and 90% were able to avoid surgical treatments. Just six patients required a second pulsed radiofrequency session.

Napoli stated that the probe supplies a mild electrical energy resulting in no thermal damage. Relieved of pain, patients were able to resume their usual activities within a day.

Furthermore, he stated that there is a big gap between traditional surgical treatments and the image-guided treatment. The evolving technologies in image-guided treatments may help a significant number of patients to avoid surgery.