Background context: Partial removal of the nucleus has been shown to decompress herniated discs, relieving pressure on nerve roots and, in some cases, offering relief from disc pain. The nucleoplasty technique builds on earlier surgical approaches that helped validate the strategy of intranuclear tissue removal. Nucleoplasty, a new minimally invasive procedure using patented coblation technology, combines coagulation and ablation for partial removal of the nucleus pulposus to decompress the disc.
Purpose: To determine if histologic changes of the intervertebral discs and surrounding tissues occur after nucleoplasty.
Study design: A light microscopic study of intervertebral disc and adjacent neural tissues after disc decompression by nucleoplasty in pig cadavers.
Methods: Light microscopy was used to examine disc and neural tissues in two pig cadaveric specimens (T12 to sacrum). Nucleoplasty was performed by 1) advancing a radiofrequency wand to a predetermined depth in the disc (ablation), and 2) withdrawing the wand to the starting point (coagulation). Discs and adjacent tissues were removed from treated and nontreated segments, and examined under light microscopy.
Results: Histologic examination revealed no evidence of direct mechanical or thermal damage to the surrounding tissues. There was clear evidence of coblation channels with clean coagulation borders of the nucleus pulposus. Normal histologic findings of the annulus and end plate, with normal neural elements of the spinal cord and nerve roots at the level of the procedure, were observed.
Conclusions: The histologic findings of this study suggest that the nucleoplasty achieves volumetric removal of target disc tissue without overt thermal or structural damage to the adjacent tissues. Further studies in live animals will be needed to assess the effects of nucleoplasty on the annulus, end plate and neural tissues under physiologic conditions, including assessment of cell viability.