The Effectiveness of Cervical Medial Branch Thermal Radiofrequency Neurotomy Stratified by Selection Criteria: A Systematic Review of the Literature

Andrew Engel, Wade King, Byron J Schneider, Belinda Duszynski, Nikolai Bogduk
Pain Medicine 2020 September 15

OBJECTIVE: To determine the effectiveness of cervical medial branch thermal radiofrequency neurotomy in the treatment of neck pain or cervicogenic headache based on different selection criteria.

DESIGN: Comprehensive systematic review.

METHODS: A comprehensive literature search was conducted, and the authors screened and evaluated the studies. The Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation system was used to assess all eligible studies.

OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measure assessed was the success rate of the procedure, defined by varying degrees of pain relief following neurotomy. Data are stratified by number of diagnostic blocks and degree of pain relief.

RESULTS: Results varied by selection criteria, which included triple placebo-controlled medial branch blocks, dual comparative medial branch blocks, single medial branch blocks, intra-articular blocks, physical examination findings, and symptoms alone. Outcome data showed a greater degree of pain relief more often when patients were selected by triple placebo-controlled medial branch blocks or dual comparative medial branch blocks, producing 100% relief of the index pain. The degree of pain relief was similar when triple or dual comparative blocks were used.

CONCLUSIONS: Higher degrees of relief from cervical medial branch thermal radiofrequency neurotomy are more often achieved, to a statistically significant extent, if patients are selected on the basis of complete relief of index pain following comparative diagnostic blocks. If selected based on lesser degrees of relief, patients are less likely to obtain complete relief.

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