Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

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Testing the Safety of Radiofrequency Treatment for Low Back Pain

Using radiofrequency (RF) for chronic low back pain (LBP) is a common treatment. RF has only about a one percent chance of problems. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic recently confirmed these findings in a five-year study.

They used RF to treat nerve tissue. Damaging the precise nerve with thermal energy cuts off pain messages to the joints in the lumbar spine. Surgeons use a special X-ray called fluoroscopy to guide RF treatments. The patient is awake under local anesthesia. This allows the surgeon to test for the exact location of the pain.

The authors report results of 92 patients with a total of 616 RF nerve denervations. Complications such as nerve pain, loss of sensation, or burning sensations were reported in six cases. Some of the problems lasted less than two weeks.

Problems after RF for chronic LBP are very low and often don't last long. The safety of this operation is likely due to the fluoroscopic guidance of the electrodes. The authors suggest further research is needed to study this same treatment in the neck and upper back.

Craig Kornick, MD, et al. Complications of Lumbar Facet Radiofrequency Denervation. In Spine. June 15, 2004. Vol. 29. No. 12. Pp. 1352-1354.


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