Islamabad - More than 80 per cent of people with chronic low back pain who received a single, ten-minute pulsed radiofrequency treatment are pain free after one year, a new study reveals.

Researchers claim that their computed tomography (CT)-guided pulsed radiotherapy technique could help to alleviate chronic low back pain. The new and minimally-invasive treatment was tested on 80 people who had chronic low back pain due to a herniated disc.

A herniated disk, which is also referred to as a slipped or ruptured disk, occurs when discs between the spine’s vertebrae protrude. This can pinch the spinal nerves and cause pain, particularly in the lower back.

“The nerve root is a sensitive structure that when pinched becomes inflamed and causes pain”, says lead study investigator Dr Alessandro Napoli of the Sapienza University of Rome in Italy.

 “The body reacts with muscle constriction, which decreases the distance between vertebrae, and a vicious cycle is created”. For 90 per cent of people with back pain because of a herniated disk, symptoms will pass within six weeks. But for the remaining ten percent, it is unlikely that current medical treatments alone will alleviate pain. In severe cases, surgery to ease nerve pressure is the best option, he said.

“There’s a big gap”, added Dr Napoli, “between conservative treatments for disc compression and herniation and surgical repair, which can lead to infection, bleeding, and a long recovery period”. But he and his colleagues may have discovered an alternative treatment option that is significantly less invasive than surgery.

The researchers recently presented their new results at the Radiological Society of North America annual meeting, held in Chicago.

The new treatment involves using computed tomography (CT) imaging to help guide a needle to the patient’s herniated disc and nerve root. Next, a probe is inserted into the needle. For ten minutes, the probe delivers pulses of electrical energy to the affected area.

“Following this treatment, inflammation and pain go away”, explained Dr Napoli, adding “With relaxation of the muscles, the distance between the vertebrae returns”.

Over the course of three years, the researchers tested the technique on 80 people with chronic low back pain caused by a herniated disc. Patients had been experiencing pain for at least three months, and they failed to respond to medication or exercise.

Lower back pain may all be in the mind, the study suggests. Researchers suggest that many cases of low back pain may be psychological.