Current Issue - July/August 2009 - Vol 12 Issue 4


  1. 2009;12;E225-E264An Algorithmic Approach for Clinical Management of Chronic Spinal Pain
    EBM - Guidelines
    Laxmaiah Manchikanti, MD, Standiford Helm II, MD, Vijay Singh, MD, Ramsin M. Benyamin, MD, Sukdeb Datta, MD, Salim M. Hayek, MD, PhD, Bert Fellows, MA, and Mark V. Boswell, MD, PhD.

Interventional pain management, and the interventional techniques which are an integral part of that specialty, are subject to widely varying definitions and practices. How interventional techniques are applied by various specialties is highly variable, even for the most common procedures and conditions. At the same time, many payors, publications, and guidelines are showing increasing interest in the performance and costs of interventional techniques.

There is a lack of consensus among interventional pain management specialists with regards to how to diagnose and manage spinal pain and the type and frequency of spinal interventional techniques which should be utilized to treat spinal pain. Therefore, an algorithmic approach is proposed, providing a step-by-step procedure for managing chronic spinal pain patients based upon evidence-based guidelines. The algorithmic approach is developed based on the best available evidence regarding the epidemiology of various identifiable sources of chronic spinal pain.

Such an approach to spinal pain includes an appropriate history, examination, and medical decision making in the management of low back pain, neck pain and thoracic pain. This algorithm also provides diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to clinical management utilizing case examples of cervical, lumbar, and thoracic spinal pain.

An algorithm for investigating chronic low back pain without disc herniation commences with a clinical question, examination and imaging findings. If there is evidence of radiculitis, spinal stenosis, or other demonstrable causes resulting in radiculitis, one may proceed with diagnostic or therapeutic epidural injections. In the algorithmic approach, facet joints are entertained first in the algorithm because of their commonality as a source of chronic low back pain followed by sacroiliac joint blocks if indicated and provocation discography as the last step. Based on the literature, in the United States, in patients without disc herniation, lumbar facet joints account for 30% of the cases of chronic low back pain, sacroiliac joints account for less than 10% of these cases, and discogenic pain accounts for 25% of the patients. The management algorithm for lumbar spinal pain includes interventions for somatic pain and radicular pain with either facet joint interventions, sacroiliac joint interventions, or intradiscal therapy. For radicular pain, epidural injections, percutaneous adhesiolysis, percutaneous disc decompression, or spinal endoscopic adhesiolysis may be performed. For non-responsive, recalcitrant, neuropathic pain, implantable therapy may be entertained.

In managing pain of cervical origin, if there is evidence of radiculitis, spinal stenosis, post-surgery syndrome, or other demonstrable causes resulting in radiculitis, an interventionalist may proceed with therapeutic epidural injections. An algorithmic approach for chronic neck pain without disc herniation or radiculitis commences with clinical question, physical and imaging findings, followed by diagnostic facet joint injections. Cervical provocation discography is rarely performed. Based on the literature available in the United States, cervical facet joints account for 40% to 50% of cases of chronic neck pain without disc herniation, while discogenic pain accounts for approximately 20% of the patients. The management algorithm includes either facet joint interventions or epidural injections with surgical referral for disc-related pain and rarely implantable therapy.

In managing thoracic pain, a diagnostic and therapeutic algorithmic approach includes either facet joint interventions or epidural injections.