Things Heat Up with New Radiofrequency Device for Disc Problems
Degenerative disc disease causes many cases of low back pain. Tears of the outer covering called the annulus fibrosus often result in pain lasting for years, even decades. Treatment with radiofrequency is used to stop the nerves from sending pain messages to the brain. This study investigates the use of a new tool used to deliver the radiofrequency.

Until now a flexible tube or catheter called the SpineCATH has been used to gain access to the disc. The tube is moved from the front of the disc to the back between the two main parts of the disc. Some surgeons thread the tube around the disc from one side to the other.

The new device (discTRODE) is stiffer and can be placed directly in the annulus. Patients having radiofrequency treatment with the discTRODE were followed for one year. The results were measured by pain levels and function and then compared with a control group. The control group didn't have radiofrequency.

The authors report pain was reduced almost 40 percent in the treated patients compared to an increase of three percent in the control group. At 12 months the radiofrequency group had improved function. There was no change in function for the control group.

Researchers were surprised to find no change in medication usage or return to work status after pain improvement in the treatment group. They suggest entrenched drug behaviors from chronic pain leads to continued drug usage. Something other than pain and physical function may explain why patients didn't return to work as expected.
References
P. M. Finch, FFARCS, et al. Radiofrequency Heating of Painful Annular Disruptions. One-Year Outcomes. In Journal of Spinal Disorders. February 2005. Vol. 18. No. 1. Pp. 6-13.