Radio Waves Show Promise as Treatment for Arthritis Pain

Novel therapy uses cold and heat radio energy to treat arthritis pain.

Pain specialists at Rush University have created a novel treatment for arthritis pain that may be more beneficial that standard treatment. The minimally-invasive, non-drug approach uses cool radio energy to interrupt pain signals, according to a press release from the university.

The procedure, called Coolief, lasts for several months and relieves arthritis-related pain for patients who cannot undergo surgery, which could lessen the need for daily treatment with prescription and OTC pain drugs, according to the release.

“We’re not taking away the arthritis, just the arthritis pain,” Amin Sandeep, MD, a pain specialist at Rush University Medical Center, said in the release. “We're changing the wiring of the knee to interrupt the pain signal.”

Previously, pain medicine specialists treated chronic pain with radiofrequency (RF) ablation technology, which uses heat from radio waves to neutralize specific nerves that cause pain, according to the release.

The Cooleif RF approach includes both cold and heat energy to create long-lasting pain relief for patients with arthritis.

During the procedure, needles and water-cooled electrodes are inserted into the knee to target 3 nerves that send pain signals to the brain. Then, RF energy passes through the needle and heats the nerves, which reduces their ability to signal pain for extended periods of time, according to the release.

By also cooling the area with the electrodes, the procedure extends the treatment area larger than what occurs with heat-only therapy. This further lengthens the time needed for the nerves to recuperate and send pain signals.

In May 2017, the FDA approved Coolief for the treatment of chronic knee pain from osteoarthritis. The approval was based on a clinical trial showing that the therapy was safe and provided better and longer lasting pain relief compared with cortisone injections, according to the release.

Osteoarthritis is a painful condition where the cartilage that cushions joints wears away, causing bones to rub together. This results in pain, stiffness, and swelling. The CDC estimates that 20 million Americans have osteoarthritis of the knee, with more than 700,000 receiving a knee replacement each year.

While total knee replacement is the best option for many patients with severe osteoarthritis, some patients may not be able to undergo the surgery due to diabetes, weight, and other risks, according to the release. Additionally, some patients may be denied the surgery because they are young and would likely require an additional knee replacement.

“This procedure is proving to be a great option for those patients.” Dr Amin said.