Radiofrequency Denervation Offers No Benefits for Back Pain

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Radiofrequency denervation works no better than exercise for relief of back pain, a new study has found.

In radiofrequency denervation, a doctor uses fluoroscopy to guide a needle to a nerve, then uses an electric current to damage the nerve so that it can no longer conduct pain impulses.

For the study, published in JAMA, researchers conducted three randomized clinical trials involving 681 patients ages 18 to 70 with chronic low back pain originating at three different back locations. All participated in a three-month exercise program, but within a week after beginning the exercise, half of them underwent radiofrequency denervation as well. All were required to refrain from any other treatment except the use of over-the-counter pain relievers.

After three months, there was no clinically significant difference in pain or function between the treatment groups and the controls.

The study was done by researchers at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. One of the authors, Esther T. Maas, currently at the University of British Columbia, said that while the treatment showed no harmful effects, it was not helpful.

“We have shown,” she said, “that radiofrequency denervation does not give any further relief” beyond that provided by exercise and physical therapy.