Chronic lower back pain is one of the most common musculoskeletal problems; it is also the most expensive industrial injury. Not surprisingly, many treatments have been developed to combat this expensive and debilitating condition. One of these, intradiscal electrothermal treatment (IDET), was developed for patients with chronic discogenic lower back pain who failed to improve with any of the wide variety of non-surgical treatments. The present study sought to evaluate the efficacy of IDET for patients with chronic lower back pain. Twenty-five patients were enrolled in this prospective study; the patients received IDET between June 2001 and June 2003. MRI was used to confirm the diagnosis of internal disc disruption in all patients. The patients then underwent a pre-operative provocative test and discography. The follow-up duration was at least 1 year in all cases, and the visual analogue scale, recovery rate, and satisfaction of each patient were evaluated. The average age of the patients was 32 years (age range 18 to 49 years), and the patient group was 33% male and 67% female. Of the 25 patients, 5 underwent lumbar fusion surgery within 1 year of IDET. After IDET, 8 patients (32%) reported more pain than before, 14 patients (56%) reported less pain, and 3 patients (12%) experienced no change. Twelve patients (48%) were satisfied with IDET, 11 (44%) were dissatisfied, and 2 (8%) were undecided about the treatment. At least 1 year after IDET, nearly half the study patients were dissatisfied with their medical outcome. Consequently, 5 patients (20%) underwent fusion surgery at 1 year after IDET. Although other studies have shown good results with IDET for at least 2 years, this investigation suggests the IDET may be somewhat less effective. In order to firmly establish the efficacy of IDET for treating chronic discogenic lower back pain, additional studies with larger numbers of patients evaluated over longer time periods are recommended.
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