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Freezing Nerves can Dampen Pain: Study

Apr 15, 2013 07:18 AM EDT

A minimally invasive treatment that uses a small ball of ice can effectively treat chronic pain, according to a new study presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans.

The treatment, called cryoneurolysis, uses a tiny probe with a temperature of minus 10 to minus 16 degrees Celsius. This probe stops the nerves from sending pain signals by burning the outer layer of the nerve transmitting the pain signal to the brain.

The study could help millions of people who suffer from a painful condition called neuralgia, in which patients suffer from sharp, shooting pain that follows the path of a nerve that's damaged due to diabetes, surgery or traumatic injury.

"Cryoneurolysis could have big implications for the millions of people who suffer from neuralgia, which can be unbearable and is very difficult to treat. Cryoneurolysis offers these patients an innovative treatment option that provides significant lasting pain relief and allows them to take a lower dose of pain medication -- or even skip drugs altogether," said William Moore, M.D., medical director of radiology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in Stony Brook, N.Y., according to a news release.

The present study included 20 patients who received the treatment for various symptoms of neuralgia. Patients' pain was evaluated using a visual pain scale questionnaire. Data from the patients was collected at one week, one month and again three months after the treatment.

Moore said that pain dropped from eight on 10 (on an average) to just 2.4 after a week of treatment. Patients were free from pain for almost two months after the procedure, but in some people, pain increased to four points on the scale.

The probe that's used in the procedure is about the size of an IV needle. Ice crystals are created along the affected the damaged nerves using pressurized gas.

"The effect is equivalent to removing the insulation from a wire, decreasing the rate of conductivity of the nerve. Fewer pain signals means less pain, and the nerve remains intact," Moore explained. He added that more research is needed to determine the efficacy of the procedure.

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