Nerve Zap Might Ease Pain of Herniated Disk

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 27, 2018 (HealthDay News) –What if a simple zap to the spine could relieve the debilitating lower back and leg pain brought on by a herniated disk?

Such is the promise of "pulse radiofrequency" therapy (pRF), which sends inflammation -reducing pulses of energy to nerve roots in the spine, a new study claims.

The therapy is not new, having first received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in the 1980s.

But recent advances in CT scan technology now enable clinicians to deploy those energy pulses with much more accuracy, experts said. And the new research suggests the treatment could prove a boon to back pain patients for whom standard therapies have failed to do the trick.

"I was amazed with the results of pRF," said study author Dr. Alessandro Napoli. "Especially having read, as a radiologist, numerous lumbar MRI scans of patients with recurrent hernia after surgery."

And as a patient himself, Napoli added that "from personal experience I can tell you that the treatment is not painful, and the results are appreciated within days after a single treatment lasting 10 minutes."

Napoli is a professor of interventional radiology at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy.

He and his colleagues plan to report their findings Tuesday at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Lower disk herniation results when the insulating disks that sit between spinal vertebrae tear open, allowing jelly-like material to protrude and exert pressure on surrounding nerve roots. Beyond lower back pain , the condition often triggers sciatica , a pain that radiates down a patient’s leg.

Standard therapies include over-the-counter pain meds, corticosteroid spinal injections, and/or invasive spine surgery that sometimes involves disk removal and vertebrae fusion.

The problem, said Napoli, is that such options entail risks without assured relief.

" Steroid injections are effective only in portion of the patients, and generally require more sessions," he noted. And though surgery safety has "largely improved," Napoli pointed to the risk for bleeding and infection, the need for a minimum two- to three-day hospital stay, the high cost, and the fact that some patients ultimately realize little benefit.

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