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Facet Pain

New MRgFUS Technology can Permanently Relieve Facet Pain

How New Technology Eliminates Facet Pain

The first sonic boom was heard on October 14, 1947 when pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier. This feat opened new opportunities in aviation. Today, it seems like new technologies spring up daily, promising all kinds of exciting possibilities. This happens not only in communications, electronics, manufacturing – you name it – but also in medicine. Now there is a new way to relieve facet pain.

For hundreds of thousands of people who suffer with chronic back pain due to facet arthritis, there is a treatment breakthrough that is completely noninvasive and can bring fast, permanent pain relief. Facet pain (usually pronounced fuh-SETT) is the result of cartilage deterioration in the small spinal joints where the bottom of one vertebra (section of backbone) joins the top of another. The facet joints make it possible for the spinal column to bend and twist smoothly for body movement and mobility.

As with any joint in the body that is cushioned by cartilage, the normal activities of daily life put wear and tear on facet joints. Injury can also trigger joint disease, and in occupations and athletics thatrequire strenuous activity, joint damage sometimes progresses into chronic conditions. The most common degenerative joint disease is osteoarthritis, or simply arthritis. It most commonly affects fingers, knees and hips, but it can occur in the facet joints of the lower back (lumbar spine) or neck area (cervical spine). As the cartilage deteriorates, bone begins rubbing on bone. Inflammation and bone spurs can occur, causing acute pain. Headaches and muscle pain are common complications. Early facet pain can often be managed with massage, anti-inflammatories, physical therapy and lifestyle changes. If these become ineffective and pain worsens, more invasive treatment may be offered:

  • Injections into the nerve to relieve pain for a period of months, then re-administered as needed
  • Radiofrequency ablation deadens the nerves by inserting a probe to run electricity through the nerve, offering longer term relief than injections
  • Surgery to fuse the affected vertebrae so no movement can occur in that section of the spine

Many people are not comfortable with the risks of inserting needles, probes, or a scalpel into the spinal column. Now there is good news. A new technology called MRI-guided Focused Ultrasound (MRgFUS) is an image-guided, totally noninvasive way to deaden the nerve at each facet joint that is causing pain. Nothing penetrates the skin, similar to the kind of ultrasound used to take harmless images of a developing fetus in the mother’s womb. But unlike imaging ultrasound, MRgFUS is an actual treatment that harnesses sound waves and concentrates them on a precise target. The difference between ultrasound imaging and MRgFUS therapy can be summed up by two elements:

1. The wavelength of the MRgFUS acoustic energy is different, and

2. MRgFUS sound waves come from many different angles and when they meet, heat is created at

that point.

Focusing ultrasound is similar to a magnifying glass that focuses sunlight through a lens onto a small,

bright point where it generates intense heat. The light coming through the lens is not hot until the sun’s rays converge in the bright spot. In the same way, the sound waves that are aimed at the painful nerve pass harmlessly through healthy tissue, but when they converge at the targeted nerve, the temperature is quickly raised high enough to ablate (destroy) the very tiny area needed to permanently turn off the pain signals. What ensures the precision of the focused ultrasound is the treatment mapping and guidance ability of a powerful 3 Tesla magnet (3T MRI). Using the high-resolution imaging that can clearly identify the arthritic joint and its nerve, the doctor makes a treatment map while the patient lies comfortably on a special treatment table that slides in and out of the magnet. Inside the same table is an amazing device that will produce and aim the focused ultrasound at the target defined by the treatment map. What’s more, the MRI has special software that registers temperature change in in tissue, and reveals it on a computer monitor in real time, as the treatment is happening. This allows the doctor to confirm that the ablation of the nerve is occurring accurately, while adjacent healthy tissue is not affected.

The benefits of MRgFUS technology for facet pain include

  • Short recovery time
  • Minimal to no side effects
  • No needles or cutting
  • No drugs
  • No radiation
  • No spinal fusion

The Sperling Medical Group is pleased to offer 3T MRI for the diagnosis of facet pain. If a patient is a candidate for MRgFUS for facet arthritis, our state-of- the-art 3T magnet and expert staff are two of the finest resources to apply this breakthrough technology to relieve pain and improve quality of life. For more information, or to arrange a consultation, contact the Sperling Medical Group.

Facet Pain