For those living with chronic pain, every day is a struggle. Medications can help. But patients can become addicted and the drugs don’t always eliminate the discomfort.
Now, a new minimally invasive procedure that takes less than an hour promises pain relief for up to a year without daily medication.
The technology is called Cooled Radiofrequency Treatment. Devices like the Coolief use radio waves to literally burn the nerves responsible for sending pain signals from the body to the brain. By destroying this tissue, patients may get almost immediate pain relief.
Treatments like this make sense in theory, and have been used in other areas of medical care for years, doctors note.
"The hope is that the majority of their pain is coming from the area we are treating and that they will get relief," explains Dr. Standiford Helm of DISC Sports & Spine Center in Newport Beach.
It worked for former fire department Chief James Rada. At 89, his doctors didn’t want to perform surgery on his injured back. So instead, Dr. Helm performed a Coolief procedure. It didn’t take long for the ex-firefighter to get relief.
"It was almost instantaneous," Rada said. "No pain."
The patient is awake during the procedure. The doctor uses local anesthetic on the affected area and some sedation medication to make the patient comfortable. There’s no cutting involved either. Small needles are used to locate the nerves and guide the probe. Once the probe is inserted, it only takes a few minutes to burn and destroy the nerve tissue.
"The benefit of the Coolief is that it cools the tissues around the tip of the probe to prevent charring," explains Dr. Helm. “This allows us to burn a larger area during the procedure.”
It’s critical that Dr. Helm doesn’t damage any of the nerves responsible for movement or function. So he uses a real-time X-ray machine during the procedure to make sure he only treats the nerves responsible for the pain. Once he is certain he has identified the correct areas, he uses the machine the complete the procedure.
"I think this really provides a way of helping people for whom we really had no other proven way of providing help," said Dr. Helm.
Dr. Bruce says: "If you have a painful condition, see an expert who can diagnose the problem specifically. The choice depends on your condition, history and examination; and only an expert can help you make the choice. There are many treatment options and this is definitely one of the least complex that may produce relief with few side effects."