Equivalent outcomes of lumbar therapeutic facet joint nerve blocks and radiofrequency neurotomy: Comparative evaluation of clinical outcomes and cost utility
Manchikanti L, Kosanovic R, Pampati V, et al. Equivalent Outcomes of Lumbar Therapeutic Facet Joint Nerve Blocks and Radiofrequency Neurotomy: Comparative Evaluation of Clinical Outcomes and Cost Utility. Pain Physician. 2022;25(2):179-192.
Background: Chronic low back pain secondary to facet joint pathology is prevalent in 27% to 40% of selected populations using controlled comparative local anesthetic blocks. Lumbar facet joint nerve blocks and radiofrequency neurotomy are the most common interventional procedures for lower back pain. Nonetheless, questions remain regarding the effectiveness of each modality. Moreover, there is no agreement in reference to superiority or inferiority of lumbar facet joint nerve blocks when compared with radiofrequency neurotomy. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and almost all payers prefer radiofrequency ablation. Both procedures have been extensively studied with randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews, and cost utility analysis.
Objective: To assess the clinical outcomes and cost utility of therapeutic lumbar facet joint nerve blocks (lumbar facet joint nerve blocks with L5 dorsal ramus block) compared with radiofrequency neurotomy in managing chronic low back pain of facet joint origin.
Study design: A retrospective, case-control, comparative evaluation of outcomes and cost utility.
Setting: The study was conducted in an interventional pain management practice, a specialty referral center, a private practice setting in the United States.
Methods: The study was performed utilizing the Strengthening the Reporting of Observational Studies in Epidemiology Analysis (STROBE) criteria. Only the patients meeting the diagnostic criteria of facet joint pain by means of comparative, controlled diagnostic local anesthetic blocks were included.The main outcome measure was pain relief measured by the Numeric Rating Scale (NRS) evaluated at 3, 6, and 12 months. Significant improvement was defined as at least 50% improvement in pain relief. Cost utility was calculated utilizing direct payment data for the procedures with the addition of estimated indirect costs over a period of one year based on highly regarded surgical literature and previously published interventional pain management literature.
Results: A total of 326 patients met the inclusion criteria with 99 patients receiving lumbar facet joint nerve blocks (lumbar facet joint nerve blocks with L5 dorsal ramus block) and 227 receiving lumbar radiofrequency neurotomy. Forty-eight patients in the facet joint nerve block group and 148 patients in the radiofrequency group completed one-year follow-up. Patients experienced significant improvement in both groups from baseline to 12 months with significant pain relief (≥ 50%) Significant pain relief was recorded in 100%, 99%, and 79% of the patients in the facet joint nerve block group, whereas, it was 100%, 74%, and 65% in the radiofrequency neurotomy group at the 3, 6, and 12 month follow-up, with a significant difference at 6 months. Cost utility analysis showed average costs for quality-adjusted life year (QALY) of $4,664 for lumbar facet joint nerve blocks and $5,446 for lumbar radiofrequency neurotomy. Twelve patients (12%) in the lumbar facet joint nerve block group and 79 patients (35%) in the lumbar radiofrequency group were converted to other treatments, either due to side effects or inadequate relief.
Conclusion: This study shows similar outcomes of therapeutic lumbar facet joint nerve blocks when compared with radiofrequency neurotomy as indicated by significant pain relief and cost utility.