Giving damaged nerves a hit of high-tech “freezer burn” significantly reduced neuralgia pain for at least six months, according to a paper presented today at the Society for Interventional Radiology’s annual scientific conference in New Orleans.
In this treatment, called cryoneurolysis, an interventional radiologist or other specialist makes a nick in the skin near the source of pain and inserts a small probe about the size of an IV needle, then snakes the probe to the affected nerves. Once the probe is positioned at the damaged nerve, pressurized gas is used to cool the tip, creating ice crystals along the edge of the nerves.
“This interrupts the pain signal to the brain and blunts or eliminates the pain while allowing the damaged nerves to grow over time,” said study co-author Dr. William Moore, medical director of radiology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in Stony Brook, N.Y. “The effect is equivalent to removing the insulation from a wire, decreasing the rate of conductivity of the nerve,” he said.
In effect, it’s like turning down the volume of your TV. The sound is harder to hear. Reducing the strength and volume of a pain signal means less pain.
In the study, 22 patients received cryoneurolysis treatment for a variety of documented neuralgia syndromes. They described the intensity of their pain before and after treatment and at follow-ups using a visual pain-scale questionnaire.
Pre-procedure, the average pain level was 8.6. One week after the procedure, it had decreased to 2.4. At the two-month follow-up, it was 2.3. Although statistically significant reduction in pain levels persisted, pain intensity increased over time, to 4.0 at the six-month follow-up and to 4.6 at nine months. Only one patient included in the study group showed no improvement.
All patients were re-treated at or before the 12-month follow-up.
Cryoneurolysis isn’t a one-time solution. Like Botox injections for muscle spasms and wrinkle reduction the procedure must be repeated. But it is an option when pain medications and other treatments fail.
“It could have big implications for the millions of people who suffer from neuralgia, which can be unbearable and is very difficult to treat,” Moore said, adding that more comparative studies are needed.