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Pain Relief for Shoulders and Hips Without Surgery, Reports New Study

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Patients have a new treatment option for shoulder pain.

Pain in the shoulders and hips are among the most common complaints that lead to decreased activity and a decrease in quality of life. Here’s the latest on a new medical treatment that decreases pain and increases mobility at the same time.


According to a recent news release from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), problems with the knees, shoulders and hips account for approximately 95% of all arthritis cases. For many, the treatment options are limited, and not always eligible nor successful with everyone. Today, however, a new option is available that significantly reduces pain and restores mobility without surgery by essentially stunning the affected area with radiofrequency energy known as cooled radiofrequency ablation (c-RFA).

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Typical Shoulder Pain Treatments are Limiting

Once you start developing pain in the shoulders, for many the first course of action are injections of anesthetics and steroids to lower the inflammation and lessen the pain. Unfortunately, however, researchers quoted in the news release explain that while the effects are often nearly-immediate and seem like a livable adjustment, the benefits are actually short-lived.

"Usually, over time patients become less responsive to these injections," said Felix M. Gonzalez, M.D., from the Radiology Department at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. "The first anesthetic-corticosteroid injection may provide six months of pain relief, the second may last three months, and the third may last only a month. Gradually, the degree of pain relief becomes nonsignificant."

After the injection route begins to fail to provide relief, the remaining options are to either undergo invasive surgery for joint repair and replacement (which a person for health reasons may be ineligible for); or, start taking strong painkillers, which carries with the risk of opioid abuse and addiction.

A New Option for Joint Pain Treatment

However, a new option is that of having the painful joint treated with “…a novel interventional radiology treatment known as cooled radiofrequency ablation (c-RFA) to achieve pain relief in the setting of advanced degenerative arthritis.” This technique was tested on 12 shoulder and 11 hip pain patients who had previously had become unresponsive to the typical steroid injection first course of action treatment.

Before the radiofrequency treatment, the first treatment that the patients had to endure was an initial diagnostic nerve block treatment.

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A diagnostic nerve block treatment is where a local anesthetic is injected into specific areas of the shoulder where a physician suspects lies the nerve or nerves responsible for the pain. Once a particular nerve or nerve group is found that once numbed by the anesthetic results in loss of shoulder pain, the physician then knows exactly where to focus the radiofrequency treatment.

During the radiofrequency stage of the treatment, needles are inserted near the identified nerves and then treated with radiofrequency energy that essentially acts as a type of stun gun that decreases the transmission of pain signals from the shoulder via its nerves to the brain.

The patients in the study were assessed for their range of motion and degree of pain just before and three months after the treatments, and were found to show statistically significant improvement with both a decrease in pain and an increase in their range of movement of their treated joints.

"In our study, the results were very impressive and promising," Dr. Gonzalez said. "The patients with shoulder pain had a decrease in pain of 85%, and an increase in function of approximately 74%. In patients with hip pain, there was a 70% reduction in pain, and a gain in function of approximately 66%."

c-RFA Might Be Used for Other Pain-Related Medical Conditions

The news release states that the new technique provides an alternative treatment for both shoulder and hip pain. And, more importantly, that it may be applicable as a novel pain treatment procedure outside of treating joint problems.

"We're just scratching the surface here," Dr. Gonzalez said. "We would like to explore efficacy of the treatment on patients in other settings like trauma, amputations and especially in cancer patients with metastatic disease."

For more about pain relief, here is an informative news piece about a new approach to back pain that results in significantly less disability.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with an eye on the latest news, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on what you need to know for healthier living. For continual updates about health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of Dylan Sauerwein on Unsplash

References:Novel technique 'stuns' arthritis pain in shoulder and hip” Radiological Society Of North America news release 16 Nov. 2020.