A New Radiofrequency Ablation Procedure to Treat Sacroiliac Joint Pain

Jianguo Cheng, See Loong Chen, Nicole Zimmerman, Jarrod E Dalton, Garret LaSalle, Richard Rosenquist
Pain Physician 2016, 19 (8): 603-615

BACKGROUND: Low back pain may arise from disorders of the sacroiliac joint in up to 30% of patients. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) of the nerves innervating the sacroiliac joint has been shown to be a safe and efficacious strategy.

OBJECTIVES: We aimed to develop a new RFA technique to relieve low back pain secondary to sacroiliac joint disorders.

STUDY DESIGN: Methodology development with validation through prospective observational non-randomized trial (PONRT).

SETTING: Academic multidisciplinary health care system, Ohio, USA.

METHODS: We devised a guide-block to facilitate accurate placement of multiple electrodes to simultaneously ablate the L5 dorsal ramus and lateral branches of the S1, S2, and S3 dorsal rami. This was achieved by bipolar radiofrequency ablation (b-RFA) to create a strip lesion from the lateral border of the base of the sacral superior articular process (L5-S1 facet joint) to the lateral border of the S3 sacral foramen. We applied this technique in 31 consecutive patients and compared the operating time, x-ray exposure time and dose, and clinical outcomes with patients (n = 62) who have been treated with the cooled radiofrequency technique. Patients' level of pain relief was reported as < 50%, 50 - 80%, and > 80% pain relief at one, 3, 6, and 12 months after the procedure. The relationship between RFA technique and duration of pain relief was evaluated using interval-censored multivariable Cox regression.

RESULTS: The new technique allowed reduction of operating time by more than 50%, x-ray exposure time and dose by more than 80%, and cost by more than $1,000 per case. The percent of patients who achieved > 50% pain reduction was significantly higher in the b-RFA group at 3, 6, and 12 months follow-up, compared to the cooled radiofrequency group. No complications were observed in either group.

LIMITATIONS: Although the major confounding factors were taken into account in the analysis, use of historical controls does not balance observed and unobserved potential confounding variables between groups so that the reported results are potentially confounded.

CONCLUSION: Compared to the cooled radiofrequency ablation (c-RFA) technique, the new b-RFA technique reduced operating time by more than 50%, decreased x-ray exposure by more than 80%, and cut the cost by more than $1000 per case. The new method was associated with significantly improved clinical outcomes despite the limitations of the study design. Thus this new technique appeared to be safe, efficacious, and cost-effective. Key words: Sacroiliac joint pain, sacroiliac joint, low back pain, radiofrequency ablation (RFA), bipolar radiofrequency ablation (b-RFA), cooled radiofrequency ablation (c-RFA), cost-effectiveness.

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