That Advil in your medicine cabinet may soon have some new competition from your ice box. Researchers have found that ice can effectively freeze away pain caused by nerve damage, potentially offering a promising new drug-free way to treat chronic discomfort.
Researchers from Stony Brook University School of Medicine said they were able to use a tiny ball of ice in a minimally invasive radiology treatment — called “cryoneurolysis” — to short circuit chronic pain caused by nerve damage.
The findings, being presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans this week, could open the door to a new treatment alternative to the more than 15 million Americans and Europeans who suffer from neuralgia, in which nerves are damaged by diabetes, surgery, or traumatic injury.
"Cryoneurolysis could have big implications for the millions of people who suffer from neuralgia, which can be unbearable and is very difficult to treat," said William Moore, M.D., medical director of radiology at Stony Brook. "Cryoneurolysis offers these patients an innovative treatment option that provides significant lasting pain relief and allows them to take a lower dose of pain medication — or even skip drugs altogether."
Moore noted most neuralgia sufferers rely on pain medications, which have side effects and may not provide enough relief. Cryoneurolysis uses a small probe — cooled to about 3 degrees Fahrenheit — to treat nerves under the skin, creating a freezer burn along the outer layer of the nerve that blocks the pain signal to the brain. This eliminates the pain while allowing the damaged nerves to grow over time, explained Moore.
For his study study, 20 patients received cryoneurolysis treatment and were surveyed after one week, one month, and three months. The results showed that pain relief from the treatment was sustained for several months for most patients.
Moore said some patients experienced up to a year of pain relief from a single treatment, but others may require repeat procedures.
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