Background: Chronic abdominal pain is occasionally due to entrapped intercostal nerve endings (ACNES, abdominal cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome). If abdominal wall infiltration using an anesthetic agent is unsuccessful, a neurectomy may be considered. Pulsed radiofrequency (PRF) is a relatively new treatment option for various chronic pain syndromes. Evidence regarding a beneficial effect of this minimally invasive technique in ACNES is lacking. The aim was to assess the effectiveness of PRF treatment in ACNES patients.
Methods: A series of ACNES patients undergoing PRF treatment between January 2014 and December 2015 in two hospitals were retrospectively evaluated. Pain was recorded prior to treatment and after 6 weeks using a numerical rating scale (NRS, 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst possible pain)). Successful treatment was defined as > 50% NRS pain reduction. Patient satisfaction was scored by patient global impression of change (PGIC, 1 = very much worse, to 7 = very much improved).
Results: Twenty-six patients were studied (17 women, median age 47 years, range 18 - 67 years). After 6 weeks, mean NRS score had dropped from 6.7 ± 1.2 to 3.8 ± 2.3 (P < 0.001). A mean 4.9 ± 1.4 PGIC score was reported by then. Short term treatment success (6 - 8 weeks) was 50% (n = 13, 95% CI: 29 - 71), while 8% was pain-free on the longer term (median 15 months). Median effect duration was 4 months (range 2 - 26).
Conclusions: PRF is temporarily effective in half of patients with ACNES. PRF is safe and may be favored in neuropathic pain syndromes as nerve tissue destruction is possibly limited. A randomized controlled trial determining the potential additional role of PRF in the treatment strategy for ACNES is underway.