Nov. 16 (UPI) -- A method of "stunning" nerves reduces pain by at least 70% in people with moderate to severe arthritis in their hip and shoulder joints, a study presented Monday during the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America found.
In the method, called cooled radio-frequency ablation, needles are placed on the main sensory nerves around the shoulder and hip joints, the researchers said.
The nerves, which cause the body to feel pain, are then treated with a low-grade current known as radio frequency that "stuns" them, slowing the transmission of pain to the brain, they said.
The procedure could help the need for potentially addictive opioid-based pain relievers in people with moderate to severe arthritis pain, the researchers said.
"We're just scratching the surface here," study co-author Dr. Felix M. Gonzalez said in a statement.
"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," said Gonzalez, a professor of radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
Historically, people with moderate to severe pain related to osteoarthritis have had limited treatment options -- including the injection of corticosteroids into the affected joints -- that tend to grow less effective as the arthritis progresses and worsens, according to Gonzalez and his colleagues.
"Usually, over time patients become less responsive to these injections," he said.
Without pain relief, patients with this form of arthritis face the possibility of joint replacement surgery, but many aren't candidates for these procedures due to other, underling health reasons, the researchers said.
For this study, 23 people -- 12 with shoulder pain and 11 with hip pain -- with osteoarthritis underwent treatment, the researchers said.
All 23 study participants had pain become unresponsive to anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid treatment, they said.
After receiving cooled radio-frequency ablation, the participants completed surveys to measure their function, range of motion and degree of pain prior to and at three months following the procedure.
No procedure-related complications occurred, and participants in the hip and shoulder groups reported significant reductions in pain with corresponding increases in joint function after the treatment, the researchers said.
Based on survey responses, participants with shoulder pain reported an 85% decrease in pain and a 74% increase in function, on average, Gonzalez said.
Those with hip pain reported a 70% reduction in pain and a 66% gain in function, he said.
"Until recently, there was no other alternative for the treatment of patients at the end of the arthritis pathway who do not qualify for surgery or are unwilling to undergo a surgical procedure," Gonzalez said.
"This procedure is a last resort for patients who are unable to be physically active and may develop a narcotic addiction," he said.