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15. Discogenic low back pain

An estimated 40% of chronic lumbosacral spinal pain is attributed to the discus intervertebralis. Degenerative changes following loss of hydration of the nucleus pulposus lead to circumferential or radial tears within the annulus fibrosus. Annular tears within the outer annulus stimulate the ingrowth of blood vessels and accompanying nociceptors into the outer and occasionally inner annulus. Sensitization of these nociceptors by various inflammatory repair mechanisms may lead to chronic discogenic pain. The current criterion standard for diagnosing discogenic pain is pressure-controlled provocative discography using strict criteria and at least one negative control level. The strictness of criteria and the adherence to technical detail will allow an acceptable low false positive response rate. The most important determinants are the standardization of pressure stimulus by using a validated pressure monitoring device and avoiding overly high dynamic pressures by the slow injection rate of 0.05 mL/s. A positive discogram requires the reproduction of the patient’s typical pain at an intensity of > 6/10 at a pressure of < 15 psi above opening pressure and at a volume less than 3.0 mL. Perhaps the most important and defendable response is the failure to confirm the discus is symptomatic by not meeting this strict criteria. Various interventional treatment strategies for chronic discogenic low back pain unresponsive to conservative care include reduction of inflammation, ablation of intradiscal nociceptors, lowering intranuclear pressure, removal of herniated nucleus, and radiofrequency ablation of the nociceptors. Unfortunately, most of these strategies do not meet the minimal criteria for a positive treatment advice. In particular, single-needle radiofrequency thermocoagulation of the discus is not recommended for patients with discogenic pain (2 B-). Interestingly, a little used procedure, radiofrequency ablation of the ramus communicans, does meet the (2 B+) level for endorsement. There is currently insufficient proof to recommend intradiscal electrothermal therapy (2 B+/-) and intradiscal biacuplasty (0). It is advised that ozone discolysis, nucleoplasty, and targeted disc decompression should only be performed as part of a study protocol. Future studies should include more strict inclusion criteria

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