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New treatment provides relief from low back pain, researchers say

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A new minimally invasive treatment has been shown to relieve low back pain in most patients in a single 10-minute session.

According to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), the majority of patients were pain-free after receiving a new image-guided pulsed radiofrequency treatment for low back pain and sciatica.

Pain in the lower back is very common and is usually short-term, but about 20% of people affected by acute low back pain go on to develop chronic low back pain lasting a year or more.

A major cause of low back pain which can radiate to the legs is a compressed and herniated disk, in which the rubbery cushion between vertebrae impinges on and irritates nearby nerves.

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

The study included 80 patients who had experienced at least three months of low back pain due to a herniated disk that had not responded to conservative treatments including exercise and medication.

All of the patients underwent a minimally invasive interventional radiology procedure in which, with the help of CT imaging, a needle is guided to the location of the bulging disc and nerve root. A probe is then inserted through the needle tip and delivers pulsed radiofrequency energy to the area over a 10-minute period.

Of the 80 patients treated, 81% were pain-free one year after a single 10-minute treatment session. Six patients required a second pulsed radiofrequency session. In all, 90% of the patients were able to avoid surgical treatment.

“Following this treatment, inflammation and pain go away. With relaxation of the muscles, the distance between the vertebrae returns,” Dr Napoli explained.

None of the patients experienced side effects after receiving the treatment.

“Evolving technologies like this image-guided treatment may help a substantial number of patients avoid surgery,” Dr Napoli concluded.