Sometimes, patients with painful knee osteoarthritis do not get sufficient pain relief with conservative treatments and do not want (or are not suitable candidates for) arthroplasty. Now, with the advent of genicular nerve radiofrequency ablation (GNRFA), such patients have another option.
As described in a recent issue of JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques, GNRFA has been shown to provide consistent pain relief for 3 to 6 months. Using heat generated from electricity delivered via fluoroscopically guided needle electrodes, the procedure denatures the proteins in the 3 genicular nerves responsible for transmitting knee pain. Although there is a paucity of high-quality studies on the efficacy of this procedure, one study found that, on average, GNRFA led to improvement of >60% from baseline knee pain for at least 6 months.
In the authors’ practice, GNFRA is generally not repeated if it is ineffective the first time, but the procedure has been shown to be safe when administered repeatedly in patients who respond well. Proper positioning of the electrodes is essential, but the authors caution that without ample experience, “it may be difficult to isolate the exact anatomic location of ≥1 of the genicular nerves.”
General anesthesia is not required for the procedure, which is commonly performed by interventional pain specialists. Despite theoretical concerns, no Charcot-type joints have been reported after GNRFA. The authors emphasize, however, that the procedure provides temporary relief at best; it does not eliminate the potential for nerve regrowth and does not alter the arthritic disease process. Even more importantly, GNRFA needs to be studied with higher-level clinical research designs, ideally an adequately powered sham/placebo-controlled randomized trial.
For more information about JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques, watch this video featuring JBJS Editor-in-Chief Dr. Marc Swiontkowski.