New option studied for treating back pain


Just bending over can be an ordeal for Jose Jimenez, who's lived with debilitating back pain for more than a decade.

"One day I just woke up you know, it was hard to get out of bed, my lower back was like on fire, excruciating pain," says Jimenez.

After several misdiagnoses, he learned he has a degenerative disc condition. But at just 37, Jose was leery of back surgery.

"I don't feel I should be under the knife and have a fusion in my back. I can understand when I'm older in retirement years," he says.

Instead, Jose learned about a clinical trial being conducted here in the Bay Area. Its aim is to treat patients with pain too severe to control with physical therapy, but whose spines don't require immediate surgery.

Dr. Paul Slosar is directing the SMART trial at Seton Medical Center in Daly City. Instead of surgery, doctors disable nerves inside the vertebrae that are responsible for transmitting pain signals using a technology developed by a Redwood City based Relievant.

"The Relievant technology is a radio frequency nerve ablation. It sounds very complex, but essentially it's a needle based treatment," says Dr. Slosar.

Surgeons place a cannula through the skin using high resolution imaging for guidance. The technique avoids the large incisions of most spine surgeries.

Once inside the body, the Relievant probe penetrates into the bone to reach the nerves inside. Heat generated by radio frequency is then used to deaden the nerves, as seen in this animation provided by the company.

"It disables the nerve, like any other nerve if you heat it," says Dr. David Jackson, who performs the procedure.

The device is still under clinical trials in the U.S., but patients in an initial pilot study reported relief after receiving the treatment, known as nerve ablation. If it's proven to be effective in the current trial, Dr. Slosar says it could provide a new option for hard to treat patients

"It'll be a game changer," he says. "We have very little to directly treat back pain that doesn't need spinal fusion, and doesn't respond to physical therapy. Unfortunately, a lot of those patients wind up on pain pills."

Jose Jimenez is hoping to finally find relief from a decade of pain.

"I want to get back to my way of life. I want to go out and enjoy the day, and not wake up and feel like I have to walk on egg shells because I woke up sore."

The clinical trial is known as the SMART study. It's being conducted locally through the SpineCare Medical Group.

Contact Info:
Elizabeth Malick, Study Coordinator
SpineCare Medical Group

written and produced by Tim Didion

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