NYM Offers a Minimally Invasive Solution to Back Pain

Oct 21, 2009

Patients with low back pain may find relief through a minimally invasive procedure offered at New York Methodist Hospital (NYM). Performed by pain management specialists at the Hospital, radiofrequency ablation (RF) is a non-surgical therapeutic procedure designed to decrease and/or eliminate pain symptoms arising from degenerative facet joints within the spine. The procedure involves treating the nerves that cause pain in the facet joints with localized heat generated with radiofrequency, said Gary Thomas, M.D., co-director of NYMs Pain Management Center. When a nerve is treated, it no longer sends pain signals.

During RF, a physician uses x-ray guidance to direct a special (radiofrequency) needle alongside the targeted nerve. A small amount of electrical current is carefully released through the tip of the needle to assure that it is precisely next to the target nerve, not any of the other, larger nerves. The entire procedure takes about 30 to 90 minutes and is performed under local anesthesia. Improvement is usually noticed two to three weeks after the procedure.

New techniques allow us to perform this procedure under direct visualization, through a camera (endoscopic rhizotomy) that could increase the accuracy and duration of pain relief, said Mehrdad Hedayatnia, M.D., another pain management specialist at NYM.

Pain relief from RF can last from six to 12 months and in some cases, it can last for years. More than 70 percent of patients treated with RF experience pain relief. In addition, the risk of complication is associated with the procedure is low.

There is no surgery to relieve facet joint pain, said Chaim Mandelbaum, M.D., co-director of NYMs Pain Management Center. RF decreases the chances of reoccurrence.

The lower back which carries most of the body's weight is the site of most back pain. Low back pain is often caused by overuse, strain, or injury. Aging also sometimes plays a part in causing back pain. As people age, the disks that act as cushions between the vertebrae become flatter and less flexible. Without the cushioning that these disks normally provide, the joints (facets) between vertebrae may press tightly against each other, causing back pain and stiffness. This is known as facet joint syndrome.

Symptoms of facet joint syndrome in the lower back include pain or tenderness in the lower back, pain that increases with twisting or arching the body, pain that moves to the buttocks or the back of the thighs, and/or stiffness or difficulty with certain movements, such as standing up straight or getting up out of a chair.

For more information, contact NYMs Pain Management Center at 718-832-0885 or 718-780-5607.