Cryoanalgesia is a safe approach to reducing pain.
Cold affects pain by reducing tissue swelling in the affected area. This is why cold therapy (cryotherapy) is often recommended when someone is experiencing discomfort or injuries. Cryoanalgesia is a form of a pain management that goes a step further than basic cold therapy.
- Parts of a nerve are frozen during the treatment
- The resulting ice crystals destroy elements in nerve tissues that carry pain signals to the brain
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How Cryoanalgesia Works
The freezing technique used with cryoanalgesia blocks peripheral nerve endings. Low temperatures are produced with the rapid flow of gas that travels through a probe. While the nerve endings are blocked or destroyed, the nerve cells remain intact.
How It’s Done
During the procedure, a local anesthetic is used to numb the skin and the underlying tissues in the area that will be treated. A catheter is inserted and a cryoprobe is placed through it. The freezing process will begin once the specific nerve ending has been identified. X-ray guidance (fluoroscopy) may be used to ensure correct placement. Nerves in the area may also be stimulated to find the correct nerve endings. The procedure typically takes a few minutes to complete.
Patients are usually told to limit physical activity for 24-48 hours after the procedure. The local anesthetic may produce immediate relief that often continues when it wears off since the nerve endings are frozen. Some patients report complete relief from pain while others have a noticeable reduction in pain where discomfort comes down a tolerable level. Results will depend on the specific condition that initially caused the pain. Diabetic patients are encouraged to check their blood sugar regularly after the procedure since some diabetics report an increase in symptoms after cryoanalgesia.
Cryoanalgesia does not treat the underlying cause of a patient’s pain. However, it is a minimally invasive procedure that can be safely repeated to manage pain. Because of the relief experienced, some patients are able to respond better to physical therapy and other pain management techniques. Some patients report pain reduction lasting for several months or years.
Why It May Be Recommended
Patients who may benefit from cryoanalgesia are individuals who have tried other pain relief methods such as the use of anti-inflammatory medications and various forms of physical therapy without success. It’s generally not recommended for acute, short-lasting pain. The treatment may benefit patients experiencing:
- Chronic pain relegated to a certain area
- Persistent foot and ankle pain from conditions such as plantar fasciitis
- Pain related to diabetic nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Head and neck cancer pain
- Phantom limb pain
- Radiating spine pain due to facet syndrome
- Joint-specific pain from conditions such as tennis or golfer’s elbow
- Trigger point pain
Cryoanalgesia does not destroy nerve tissues, nor does it damage nerves. The procedure has been used as a pain management technique for several decades. It’s widely considered safe and risks associated with it are minimal. The relief experienced often allows patients to get back to their normal routine without pain in the affected area. Results usually last until treated nerve tissues regenerate. Some patients may benefit from similar treatments that also reduce nerve sensitivity such as epidural injections or nerve blocks.