Joint Fusion Procedure Shows Pain-relieving Potential

Second Study Finds Spinal Cord Stimulation also Beneficial

Pain ReliefResults from two studies presented at the American Academy of Pain Medicine's (AAPM) 26th Annual Meeting show that minimally invasive joint fusion surgery and spinal cord stimulation (SCS) both show promise in relieving back pain.

Joint Fusion Produces Promising Results
The goal of the study on minimally invasive facet arthrodesis (joint fusion surgery) was to determine if the procedure could reduce pain, improve mobility, and lessen the need for medications for an extended period of time—perhaps even permanently.

The study was led by Dr. Daniel Bennett, a member of the SpineUniverse Editorial Board. Dr. Bennett performed the procedure on 102 spinal joints in patients who had back pain due to joint disease. The participants had all previously been treated with thermal radiofrequency, which uses heat to impair nerves near the pain site. This treatment, however, did not deliver long-term pain relief for the patients.

One year after surgery, Dr. Bennett used pain measurement tools, including the Visual Analog Scale (VAS) to gauge the results of the procedure. After surgery, patients reported that pain was reduced from 79 to a 23 on the VAS. Also, 92% of the patients said they were not longer using narcotic pain relievers (powerful, prescription-only pain relieving drugs).

Dr. Bennett and his colleagues are currently developing a larger study to compare the results of minimally invasive joint fusion versus conventional pain treatments, such as thermal radiofrequency.

Spinal Cord Stimulation Proves Successful after Surgery
The second study focused on whether spinal cord stimulation was an effective treatment for pain after surgery. Many patients who undergo surgery continue to experience chronic pain after their procedure—this is known as Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS).

To help reduce the chances of developing FBSS, many patients use conventional pain management therapies, such as medications or physical therapy. In this study, the researchers wanted to know whether the addition of SCS to these conventional therapies would be more beneficial after surgery than using conventional treatments alone.

The research team, which was led by Dr. Krishna Kumar, studied 100 patients with FBSS. Half of the patients received SCS, while the other group received conventional pain management therapies.

After 6 months, the researchers found:

  • 48% of the patients using SCS had experienced more than 50% pain relief, compared to 9% in the conventional treatments group
  • 38% of the SCS group experienced more than 30% back pain relief, compared to 14% in the conventional treatments group
  • 34% of the SCS group reported a worsening of their back pain, compared to 59% of patients in the conventional treatments group.

The research team also allowed the participants to switch groups after 6 months. Only 4 patients from the SCS group chose to switch to the other group, whereas 30 patients from the conventional treatments group decided to switch.

Dr. Kumar and her team are currently working on a larger trial to continue studying the effects of spinal cord stimulation and conventional treatments in reducing the pain of FBSS.

To learn more about these studies, you may read the AAPM's press release on the findings here.

Updated on: 08/24/15
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