BACKGROUND: Various forms of sympathetic chain neurolysis (sympathectomy) have, at one time or another, held promise as effective treatment options for complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Complications, such as worsening pain and the development of new pain syndromes, have prevented sympathectomy from emerging as a standard intervention. In an effort to avoid poor outcomes associated with neurolysis, pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) has been proposed as a potential treatment alternative for a number of chronic neuropathic pain states, including some forms of CRPS.
METHODS: The present report describes three cases in which patients diagnosed with lower extremity CRPS type I obtained substantial and lasting intervals of pain relief following PRF of the lumbar sympathetic chain. Over a period of four years, 14 fluoroscopically guided procedures using PRF lesioning of the lumbar sympathetic chain at L2, L3 and L4 were performed in three individuals with CRPS type I of the lower limb. Outcome measures included pre- and post-treatment self-reported pain and medication requirements.
RESULTS: Substantial pain relief (>50%) was achieved in 91.7% of PRF applications at three months and 83.3% at six months, with some treatments resulting in persistent relief well beyond 12 months. Medication use decreased to a comparable degree, with discontinuation of opiates after all but three treatments.
CONCLUSIONS: PRF lesioning of the lumbar sympathetic chain can be an effective treatment for patients with CRPS type I of the lower extremity, with the potential to provide ≥6 months of substantial pain relief.