Is Genicular Nerve Radiofrequency Ablation Safe? A Literature Review and Anatomical Study

Soo Yeon Kim, Phuong Uyen Le, Boleslav Kosharskyy, Alan D Kaye, Naum Shaparin, Sherry A Downie
Pain Physician 2016, 19 (5): E697-705
Genicular nerve radiofrequency ablation (RFA) has recently gained popularity as an intervention for chronic knee pain in patients who have failed other conservative or surgical treatments. Long-term efficacy and adverse events are still largely unknown. Under fluoroscopic guidance, thermal RFA targets the lateral superior, medial superior, and medial inferior genicular nerves, which run in close proximity to the genicular arteries that play a crucial role in supplying the distal femur, knee joint, meniscus, and patella. RFA targets nerves by relying on bony landmarks, but fails to provide visualization of vascular structures. Although vascular injuries after genicular nerve RFA have not been reported, genicular vascular complications are well documented in the surgical literature. This article describes the anatomy, including detailed cadaveric dissections and schematic drawings, of the genicular neurovascular bundle. The present investigation also included a comprehensive literature review of genicular vascular injuries involving those arteries which lie near the targets of genicular nerve RFA. These adverse vascular events are documented in the literature as case reports. Of the 27 cases analyzed, 25.9% (7/27) involved the lateral superior genicular artery, 40.7% (11/27) involved the medial superior genicular artery, and 33.3% (9/27) involved the medial inferior genicular artery. Most often, these vascular injuries result in the formation of pseudoaneurysm, arteriovenous fistula (AVF), hemarthrosis, and/or osteonecrosis of the patella. Although rare, these complications carry significant morbidities. Based on the detailed dissections and review of the literature, our investigation suggests that vascular injury is a possible risk of genicular RFA. Lastly, recommendations are offered to minimize potential iatrogenic complications.

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