A form of treatment called cyroneurolysis is being used for chronic pain caused by nerve damage; it involves using a tiny ball of ice to interrupt pain signals and eliminate pain while the nerves slowly recover.

The results of the study, presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans, could mean possible treatment for people suffering from a condition called neuralagia, characterized by a sharp shocking pain that follows the path of a nerve.

William Moore, M.D., medical director of radiology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in Stony Brook, N.Y, said:

“Cryoneurolysis could have big implications for the millions of people who suffer from neuralgia, which can be unbearable and is very difficult to treat. 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.”

There are over 15 million Europeans and Americans suffering from neuralgia, which occurs when nerves are damaged by diabetes, surgery and traumatic injury. Even though there are pain medications that help, they often don’t provide enough relief and have serious side effects.

The treatment involves creating a freezer burn on the outer layer of the nerve by cooling a small probe to a temperature of minus 10 to minus 16 degrees Celsius. It eliminates the pain by interrupting the pain signal sent to the brain.

The study included 20 patients who all received cryoneurolysis for various different syndromes related to neuralgia. The researchers assessed the effectiveness of the treatment by giving the participants a visual pain scale questionnaire after one week, one-month and three-months.

After one week of treatment, the patients’ pain dropped significantly from 8 out of 10 on the pain scale all the way down to 2.4. After six months the pain went back up slightly to 4 out of 10 – due to nerve regeneration.

Moore recommends that patients be treated with cryoneurolysis as needed, because some patients may experience relief for longer than others.

The treatment involves making a small nick in the skin at the source of the pain and placing a probe which is cooled with gas, creating ice crystals along the nerves.

Moore said:

“The effect is equivalent to removing the insulation from a wire, decreasing the rate of conductivity of the nerve. Fewer pain signals means less pain, and the nerve remains intact.”

Interestingly, researchers from Queen Mary, University of London found that omega-3 fatty acids, found in oily fish may have the potential to protect nerves from injury and help them regenerate.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist