Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy: A New Procedure for Low Back Pain


Intradiscal electrothermal therapy (IDET) is a minimally invasive spinal disc treatment to relieve chronic low back pain. Spinal discs function as cushions between the vertebrae in the spine. Damaged or injured discs result in back pain. IDET treats degenerative disc pain and disc pain resulting from injury.

Individuals usually undergo discography to receive an accurate diagnosis before undergoing IDET. Discography is a diagnostic tool that involves injecting a dye into the gel-like center of the spinal disc to determine the cause of pain.

Preparing for the Procedure

Before the procedure, intravenous sedation and a local anesthetic are administered. A physician uses X-ray imaging to help guide a wire, with an attached heating element, into the spinal disc. The wire is placed in the outer layer of the disc and slowly heated to approximately 194 degrees Fahrenheit. The high temperature is designed to destroy the nerve fibers that cause pain and encourage the disc tissue to become tougher to seal any small tears. Antibiotics are then administered in the area to prevent infection.

Following the Procedure

Pain relief does not occur immediately; it may even increase the first few days after the procedure. Physical therapy is recommended to reduce pain and hasten recovery. People should expect to walk and perform easy stretches one month after IDET. Within two to three months, moderate exercise is encouraged while lifting, bending and extended periods of sitting are discouraged. Approximately five or six months after the procedure, individuals can return to their normal exercise routine.

The ideal candidate for IDET is someone who has had chronic low back pain for three to six months despite undergoing nonsurgical treatment. Risks include disc or nerve damage and infection.

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