Study design: A prospective audit.
Objective: To establish the efficacy of lumbar medial branch neurotomy under optimum conditions.
Summary of background data: Previous reports of the efficacy of lumbar medial branch neurotomy have been confounded by poor patient selection, inaccurate surgical technique, and inadequate assessment of outcome.
Methods: Fifteen patients with chronic low back pain whose pain was relieved by controlled, diagnostic medial branch blocks of the lumbar zygapophysial joints, underwent lumbar medial branch neurotomy. Before surgery, all were evaluated by visual analog scale and a variety of validated measures of pain, disability, and treatment satisfaction. Electromyography of the multifidus muscle was performed before and after surgery to ensure accuracy of the neurotomy. All outcome measures were repeated at 6 weeks, and 3, 6, and 12 months after surgery.
Results: Some 60% of the patients obtained at least 90% relief of pain at 12 months, and 87% obtained at least 60% relief. Relief was associated with denervation of the multifidus in those segments in which the medial branches had been coagulated. Prelesion electrical stimulation of the medial branch nerve with measurement of impedance was not associated with outcome.
Conclusions: Lumbar medial branch neurotomy is an effective means of reducing pain in patients carefully selected on the basis of controlled diagnostic blocks. Adequate coagulation of the target nerves can be achieved by carefully placing the electrode in correct position as judged radiologically. Electrical stimulation before lesioning is superfluous in assuring correct placement of the electrode.