Pulsed radiofrequency treatment of the lumbar dorsal root ganglion in patients with chronic lumbar radicular pain: a randomized, placebo-controlled pilot study

Harsha Shanthanna, Philip Chan, James McChesney, Lehana Thabane, James Paul
Journal of Pain Research 2014 January 10, 7: 47-55

BACKGROUND: No proof of efficacy, in the form of a randomized controlled trial (RCT), exists to support pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) treatment of the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) for chronic lumbar radicular (CLR) pain. We determined the feasibility of a larger trial (primary objective), and also explored the efficacy of PRF in decreasing pain on a visual analog scale (VAS) and improving the Oswestry Disability Index.

METHODS: This was a single-center, placebo-controlled, triple-blinded RCT. Patients were randomized to a placebo group (needle placement) or a treatment group (PRF at 42°C for 120 seconds to the DRG). Patients were followed up for 3 months post procedure. Outcomes with regard to pain, Oswestry Disability Index score, and side effects were analyzed on an intention-to-treat basis.

RESULTS: Over 15 months, 350 potential patients were identified and 56 were assessed for eligibility. Fifteen of them did not meet the selection criteria. Of the 41 eligible patients, 32 (78%) were recruited. One patient opted out before intervention. Three patients were lost to follow-up at 3 months. Mean VAS differences were not significantly different at 4 weeks (-0.36, 95% confidence interval [CI], -2.29, 1.57) or at 3 months (-0.76, 95% CI, -3.14, 1.61). The difference in mean Oswestry Disability Index score was also not significantly different at 4 weeks (-2%, 95% CI, -14%, 10%) or 3 months (-7%, 95% CI, -21%, 6%). There were no major side effects. Six of 16 patients in the PRF group and three of 15 in the placebo group showed a >50% decrease in VAS score.

CONCLUSION: The recruitment rate was partially successful. At 3 months, the relative success of PRF-DRG was small. A large-scale trial to establish efficacy is not practically feasible considering the small effect size, which would necessitate recruitment of a challengingly large number of participants over a number of years. Until clear parameters for application of PRF are established, clinicians will need to use their individual judgment regarding its clinical applicability, given the present evidence.

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