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Efficacy of Radiofrequency Procedures for the Treatment of Spinal Pain: A Systematic Review of Randomized Clinical Trials
  1. Jos W. Geurts, M.D.,
  2. Roelof M. van Wijk, M.D.,
  3. Robert J. Stolker, M.D., Ph.D. and
  4. Gerbrand J. Groen, M.D., Ph.D.
  1. From the Department of Anesthesiology, Rijnstate Hospital (J.W.G.), Arnhem; Department of Anesthesiology, Onze Lieve Vrouwe Gasthuis (R.M.v.W.), Amsterdam; Department of Anesthesiology, University Medical Center (G.J.G.), Utrecht; and the Department of Anesthesiology, Catharina Hospital (R.J.S.), Eindhoven, The Netherlands.
  1. Reprint requests: Jos W. Geurts, M.D., Anesthesiologist, Rijnstate Hospital, PO Box 9555, 6800 TA Arnhem, The Netherlands. E-mail: anesthesiologen.arnhem{at}


Background and Objectives The use of radiofrequency (RF) procedures in the peripheral nervous system to treat chronic spinal pain has been the subject of controversy. Publications concerned only uncontrolled studies, and irreversible nervous tissue damage was believed to be responsible for the effect, if any. In recent years, randomized, controlled studies have appeared, which have attested to an increasing use of these techniques. This is a systematic review of randomized controlled trials on RF procedures for spinal pain.

Methods We performed a standardized literature search for randomized, controlled trials. Three adjudicators independently registered trial methodology and outcome using validated and subject-related instruments. Interadjudicator disagreement was resolved by discussion. It was found necessary to devise additional parameters of study assessment.

Results Six trials met the inclusion criteria. This small number, along with clinical and technical heterogeneity precluded statistical analysis. All studies, whether high or low quality, reported positive outcomes.

Conclusions We conclude that there is moderate evidence that RF lumbar facet denervation is more effective for chronic low back pain than placebo. Limited evidence exists for efficacy of RF neurotomy in chronic cervical zygapophyseal joint pain after flexion-extension injury. There is limited evidence that RF heating of the dorsal root ganglion is more effective than placebo in chronic cervicobrachialgia. We recommend the systematic application of our additional parameter assessments for future evaluations of RF studies. These additional parameters should also be used in the preparation of future trial protocols of RF procedures for the treatment of chronic pain.

  • Spinal pain
  • Radiofrequency
  • Randomized controlled trial
  • Systematic review

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