Radiofrequency ablation of the genicular nerve is a minimally invasive treatment for knee pain due to osteoarthritis of the knee, and can significantly reduce pain, especially for adults age 50 and older, according to new research to be presented at the annual scientific meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology in Phoenix, March 4-9. This is the first time that a study has examined patient demographics, previous surgical history and other clinical characteristics that can predict the degree of pain reduction after treatment.
“We know that this treatment has clear benefits in reducing pain and improving the ability to perform daily activities for patients,” said Kaitlin Carrato, MD, chief assistant in interventional radiology at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “But now that we know it’s especially helpful for people over the age of 50, it may mean that people with chronic pain conditions, such as arthritis, would benefit more from this treatment than patients with acute pain, such as an injury.”
Interventional radiologists perform geniculate nerve radiofrequency ablation using image conduction to place probe needles next to the nerves of the knee that can send pain signals to the brain. The probes generate radio waves, creating a heat ball that dulls or destroys the pain nerve endings. These nerves do not control the muscles or affect balance, making the procedure safe. In addition, patients leave with bandages, not stitches. In other studies, treatment has been shown to last from about six months to up to two years.
The study examined pain reduction for 36 patients using the visual analog scale (VAS) and the Western Ontario McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis (WOMAC) pain scale. Researchers evaluated whether pain reduction levels were influenced by demographics and clinical characteristics, such as age, gender, body mass index, history of previous surgery and history of fibromyalgia.
Before treatment, patients had a mean baseline VAS of 8.58 and a mean baseline WOMAC of 66.6. After treatment, all study participants experienced a statistically significant reduction in pain. The mean VAS dropped from 8.58 to 5.02, while the mean WOMAC score dropped from 66.6 to 41. The greatest increase in functionality and decrease in pain was recorded in patients aged 50 and over compared to younger participants .
“About one in four American adults has knee pain,” says John B. Smirniotopoulos, MD, an interventional radiologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “This treatment may provide many of those people with a chance to enjoy daily activities and regain a higher quality of life by reducing the pain they experience on a daily basis.”
The researchers are currently conducting long-term studies of this treatment that are looking in more detail at what other factors may predict how well the treatment will work. The same treatment is also performed with shoulder, hip and sacroiliac joints, where the spine connects to the pelvis.
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