The Effectiveness of Radiofrequency Ablation of Medial Branch Nerves for Chronic Lumbar Facet Joint Syndrome in Patients Selected by Guideline-Concordant Dual Comparative Medial Branch Blocks

Aaron Conger, Taylor Burnham, Fabio Salazar, Quinn Tate, Mathew Golish, Russell Petersen, Shellie Cunningham, Masaru Teramoto, Richard Kendall, Zachary L McCormick
Pain Medicine: the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pain Medicine 2019 October 14

OBJECTIVES: Although the effectiveness of lumbar medial branch radiofrequency ablation (RFA) for the treatment of zygapophyseal joint (z-joint)-mediated low back pain has been characterized, few studies have described outcomes in patients selected using a guideline-concordant paradigm of ≥80% pain relief with dual comparative medial branch blocks (MBBs). We investigated long-term treatment outcomes of patients selected according to this paradigm.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional cohort study.

METHODS: The medical records of 111 consecutive patients were reviewed; 85 met inclusion criteria. A standardized telephone survey was used to capture current numerical rating scale (NRS) and Patient Global Impression of Change (PGIC) scores. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients reporting ≥50% reduction of index pain. Binary logistic regression analysis was performed to explore associations between the primary outcome and covariates, including age, duration of pain, presence of scoliosis, degenerative spondylolisthesis, and >75% disc height loss.

RESULTS: At six to 12, 12-24, and >24 months, 63.2% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 41-85%), 65.6% (95% CI = 49-82%), and 44.1% (95% CI = 27-61%) of patients reported a ≥50% pain reduction (P = 0.170), respectively. At a minimum of six months, 70.6% of patients reported a pain reduction of two or more points (minimally clinically important change), and 54.1% reported a PGIC score consistent with "much improved" or better. Older age and a smaller Cobb angle were associated with a ≥50% pain reduction (P < 0.05).

CONCLUSION: Lumbar medial branch RFA is an effective, durable treatment for a significant proportion of patients with recalcitrant lumbar z-joint pain when candidacy is determined by the guideline-concordant paradigm of ≥80% pain relief with dual comparative MBBs.

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