Endoscopic Identification and Treating the Pain Generators in the Lumbar Spine that Escape Detection by Traditional Imaging Studies

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Introduction: The ability to identify and treat pain generators in the lumbar spine is helped by incorporating diagnostic and therapeutic injections, followed by visualizing the pain generator with an endoscope. Although improvements in imaging are getting very sophisticated, visualization of the source of the pain generators is currently only possible with an endoscope. This has opened the door to more options for cost effective surgical treatment in staged manner by treating the pain source.

Materials and methods: An FDA approved system endoscopic system and technique developed by A. Yeung in 1997, using a multichannel endoscope for the transforaminal approach to visualize the disc and foramen, is featured. After anesthetizing the disc foramen, and targeting the axilla of the foramen in the vicinity of the exiting and traversing nerve, known to spine surgeons as the “hidden zone” of MacNab, the technique has evolved to surgically provide pain relief for stratified conditions for patient selection. The standard translaminar approach to the disc and the spinal segment will usually miss visualizing the patho-anatomy of pain in this “hidden zone”, an area harboring common causes of “failed back surgery syndrome”. Recent minimally invasive techniques of decompression and fusion may help resolve the pain source, but fusion has its surgical morbidities and high costs. A less invasive highly successful transforaminal endoscopic method with 25-year data supports this technique.

Discussion: Transforaminal Endoscopic Spine Surgery, the YESS™ technique, is effective using mobile cannulas to visualize and target the pain source. New instrumentation, techniques, specially configured endoscopes with different size working channels; facilitate effective surgical treatment of the pain generator. Incorporating visualization of the disc cavity to treat painful annular tears adds to the effectiveness of the procedure. The surgeon can also treat spinal stenosis with foraminoplasty by decompressing the ventral facet of the superior articular process as well as the axilla containing the exiting and traversing nerve. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that the physiology of pain can be visualized as a pain generator. Patho-anatomy is identified and surgically decompressed. Diagnostic and therapeutic injections also aid in identifying pain generators by epidurography performed with the transforaminal approach.

Conclusion: Interventional pain management, often the first line of minimally invasive treatment, provides pain relief only by targeting injections to block nerves. Visualizing the patho-anatomy with an endoscope targeting the patho-anatomy by the same interventional needle trajectories, however, provides a surgical option to decompress and ablate the pain generators.

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