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Intracept Offers New Hope for Low Back Pain

Summit Orthopedics back pain specialist Erik Ekstrom, M.D., explains Intracept®, a new approach to back pain treatment that is showing dramatic results.

Relievant, a Minnesota-based medical device company, has developed the Intracept procedure—a minimally invasive, nonsurgical way to treat low back pain.

“Intracept has the potential to be a true game changer in the treatment of low back pain,” Dr. Ekstrom said.

Low back pain can range from an occasional annoyance to a constant, debilitating problem. Four out of five people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. Even more startling, one-quarter of Americans have had low back pain in the last three months. Intracept aims to change that.

A new view of low back pain’s cause

Intracept is based on research into what causes low back pain. Traditionally, low back pain has been thought to begin in the discs, the rubbery, gel-filled cushions that separate each of the spine’s bones from each other. Through injury, or simply as a result of aging, discs can begin to break down, bulge, or slip out of place—all of which can mean pain for the patient.

It’s possible to see changes and problems in the discs on diagnostic imaging, such as X-rays and MRIs. But will fixing the disc fix the pain? The answer is unclear.

“Actually, the disc may have less of a role in low back pain than we thought. It is a low active cushion between the bones, not having a lot of nerves or blood vessels,” Dr. Ekstrom said. “The active physiological part of the spine is not the disc—it’s the bone.”

Where the spine’s bones meet the discs, the same friction that causes wear and tear on the discs causes the number of pain receptors on the bone’s surface to increase. More pain receptors mean more pain.

“We think that these changes are the true source of the pain. People don’t have chronic disc pain—they have chronic bone pain,” Dr. Ekstrom said. It’s this specific type of bone pain—called vertebrogenic pain—that Intracept was designed to treat.

How Intracept works

Intracept targets the basivertebral nerve, which is the major nerve running through the bones of the spine. The procedure uses a small probe, which enters the space inside the bone and uses targeted energy to ablate, or “zap,” the nerve, disconnecting the pain receptors that are causing the pain signals.

It sounds like science fiction, but radiofrequency ablation is a well-established procedure used by all kinds of medical specialties, from cardiology to oncology. The procedure is permanent, and there is no impact on a person’s ability to move or function normally.

In a recent multicenter clinical trial, the Intracept procedure showed such promising results that Relievant began offering the procedure to everyone who enrolled in the trial, rather than maintaining a control group. A noteworthy percentage went from significantly disabled to minimally disabled, and half were able to stop taking pain medicine.

Dr. Ekstrom is optimistic about the potential of this new approach to treating chronic low back pain. “This is a population that we’ve been fighting to treat for decades, and now we have something to help those people who are suffering with chronic back pain,” he said.

Summit will perform its first Intracept procedure on Friday, June 12 at Maple Grove Hospital, with many additional patients to come in the following months. It will be one of the first of these types of procedures performed in Minnesota.

Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise

Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.

Start your journey to a healthy spine. Find your spine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at (651) 968–5201 to schedule a spine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Plymouth, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.

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