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Freezing Nerves Can Relieve Chronic Pain, Study Says

Update Date: Apr 15, 2013 02:07 PM EDT

A new treatment using a small ball of ice can effectively treat chronic pain, according to a new study.

The treatment is called cryoneurolysis, which uses a tiny probe with a temperature of minus 10 to minus 16 degrees Celsius. The probe, which is the size of an IV needle, is inserted into the painful area of the skin and stops the nerves from sending pain signals by burning the outer layer of the nerve. This prevents the nerve from transmitting the pain signal to the brain. However, the damaged nerves do grow back, causing some pain to return and requiring patients to receive multiple treatments.

The study was conducted by William Moore, M.D., medical director of radiology at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine and presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's 38th Annual Scientific Meeting in New Orleans. Moore says the procedure could help those who suffer from neuralgia, a painful condition causing sharp, shooting pain through the path of a nerve that has been damaged due to diabetes, surgery or traumatic injury.

"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," Moore said in a news release.

The study included 20 patients who received the treatment for various symptoms of neuralgia. The patients' pain was evaluated using a visual pain scale questionnaire. Data was also collected from the patients at one week, one month and again three months after the treatment, according to Nature World News.

The pain dropped from eight on 10 (on an average) to just 2.4 following one week of treatment, according to Moore. Patients were free from pain for almost two months after the procedure, but the pain increased in some patients to four points on the scale.

"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," Moore explained.

While the study was small the results were encouraging and Moore plans to conduct further research to determine the efficacy.

"We are continuing the study with a total goal of 125 patients," Moore told Healthline

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