Freezing Nerves May Relieve Chronic Pain

posted in Everyday Health

Freezing Nerves May Relieve Chronic Pain

A surgical procedure called cryoablation damages nerves to provide relief from chronic pain.

Before the end of the day, Dr. William Moore had stabbed three people.

Dr. Moore, a radiologist at Stony Brook University Hospital in New York, specializes in cryoablation – a procedure that uses frozen needles to numb the nerves that cause chronic pain. In any given day, he performs multiple cryoablations, piercing his patients’ skin and driving the needle inches into their bodies to apply the treatment.

“This particular technique has really worked very well because we’re going to the root of the nerve where it’s coming out of the spine,” Moore said.

Chronic nerve pain that interferes with normal life is a relatively common surgical complication affecting about 50 percent of patients who have chest operations, according to a 2008 National Institute of Health manuscript. While inside the body, surgeons can hit sensitive areas, causing the nerves to misfire and send pain signals to the brain. Once that neural pain pathway from the nerve to the brain has been established, it’s permanent, said David Hanscom, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle who specializes in chronic pain. Diseases, physical injuries and inflammation can also result in this type of condition.

When medication and therapy are unsuccessful and doctors are unable to remove the offending nerve – a dangerous and possibly fatal procedure – patients can opt to freeze it.

“In some cases, chronic pain can be incapacitating,” said Robert Suh, MD, a radiologist at the Ronald Reagan University of California Los Angeles Medical Center who also performs cryoablations. “It can be debilitating.”

Doctors use a pain scale to describe the severity of such symptoms. The scale runs from zero (no pain) to a 10 (extreme and disabling). When Gary Gluskin, Moore’s first patient, has a chronic pain attack, his pain is beyond 10 – literally off the charts.

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