a. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule, retiring and rising at approximately the same time on weekdays and weekends.
b. Limiting naps to 30 minutes twice per day or less
c. Avoiding caffeinated beverages after lunchtime.
d. Making the bedroom quiet and comfortable, eliminating disruptive lights, sounds, television sets, pets, and keeping a bedroom temperature of about 65 degrees Fahrenheit.
e. Avoiding alcohol or nicotine within two hours of bedtime.
f. Avoiding large meals within two hours of bedtime.
g. Exercising vigorously during the day, but not within two hours of bedtime, since this may raise core temperature and activate the nervous system.
h. Associating the bed with sleep and sexual activity only, using other parts of the home for television, reading and talking on the telephone.
i. Leaving the bedroom when unable to sleep for more than 20 minutes, returning to the bedroom when ready to sleep again.
j. Reducing time in bed to estimated typical sleeping time
k. Arising at a regular time each day, regardless of the number of hours slept
l. Engaging in relaxing activities until drowsy
Behavioral modifications should be trialed before the use of hypnotics. Reinforcing these behaviors may also decrease hypnotic use and overall medication costs. There is some evidence that group cognitive behavioral therapy reduces the severity and daytime consequences of insomnia for at least six months (Morin CM 2006). Melatonin or ramelteon a longer acting melatonin agonist may be preferred by some patients and is a reasonable alternative to sedative hypnotics. There is some evidence that ramelteon, while producing a small amount of reduction in sleep latency, does not appreciably increase total sleep time or daytime function (Mayer, 2009).
When considering the use of injections in chronic pain management, the treating physician must carefully consider the inherent risks and benefits. First, it is understood that these injections are seldom meant to be “curative” and when used for therapeutic purposes they are employed in conjunction with other treatment modalities for maximum benefit.
Second, education of the patient should include the proposed goals of the injections, expected gains, risks or complications, and alternative treatment.
Finally, reassessment of the patient’s status in terms of functional improvement should be documented after each injection. Any continued use of injections should be monitored using objective measures such as:
a. Return-to-work or maintaining work status.
b. Fewer restrictions at work or performing activities of daily living.
c. Decrease in usage of medications related to the work injury.
d. Measurable functional gains, such as increased range-of-motion or documented increase in strength.
Visual analog scales (VAS) provide important subjective data but cannot be used to measure function.
The physician must be aware of the possible placebo effect as well as the long-term effects of injections related to the patient’s physical and mental status. Strict adherence to contraindications, both absolute and relative, may prevent potential complications. Subjecting the patient to potential risks, i.e., needle trauma, infection, nerve injury, or systemic effects of local anesthetics and corticosteroids, must be considered before the patient consents to such procedures, especially for repeat procedures.
Therapeutic Spinal Injections:
Description –The following injections are considered to be reasonable treatment for patients with chronic pain. Other injections not listed may be beneficial. Therapeutic spinal injections may be used after initial conservative treatments, such as physical and occupational therapy, medication, manual therapy, exercise, acupuncture, etc., have been undertaken. Therapeutic injections should be used only after imaging studies and diagnostic injections have established pathology. Injections are invasive procedures that can cause serious complications; thus clinical indications and contraindications should be closely adhered to. The purpose of spinal injections is to facilitate active therapy by providing short-term relief through reduction of pain and inflammation. All patients should continue appropriate exercise with functionally directed rehabilitation. Active treatment, which patients should have had prior to injections is essential and will frequently require a repeat of the sessions previously ordered (Refer to section F. 13, Active Therapy). Injections by themselves are not likely to provide long-term relief. Rather, active rehabilitation with modified work achieves long-term relief by increasing active ROM, strength, and stability. If the first injection does not provide a diagnostic response with temporary and sustained pain relief substantiated by accepted pain scales, (i.e., 80% pain reduction), and improvement in function, similar injections should not be repeated. Cervical injections are invasive procedures that can cause catastrophic complications. Refer to the Cervical Spine Injury guidelines for more specific contraindications.
Considerations – For all spinal injections (excluding trigger point, botulinum toxin, and occipital or peripheral nerve blocks) multi-planar, during procedures is required to document technique and needle placement, and should be performed by a physician experienced in the procedure. Permanent images are required to verify needle placement. The subspecialty disciplines of the physicians may be varied, including, but not limited to: anesthesiology, radiology, surgery, or physiatry. The physician who performs injections for low back pain should document hands on training through workshops of the type offered by organizations such as the International Spine Intervention Society (ISIS) and/or completed fellowship training with interventional training. The physician who performs injections for cervical pain should have completed fellowship training in pain medicine with interventional training, or its equivalent. In addition, physicians who perform spinal injections should obtain fluoroscopy training and must also have appropriate training in radiation safety, usually overseen by a radiation safety officer.
Complications – General complications of these spinal injections may include transient neurapraxia, local pain, nerve injury, infection, headache, urinary retention and vasovagal effects; epidural hematoma, permanent neurologic damage, dural perforation and cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) leakage, and/or spinal meningeal abscess may also occur. Permanent paresis, anaphylaxis and arachnoiditis have been rarely reported with the use of epidural steroids. With steroid injections, there may be a dose-dependent suppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis lasting between one and three months. For cervical injections, severe complications are remote but can include spinal cord damage, quadriplegia, and/or death.
Contraindications – Absolute contraindications of therapeutic injections include: (a) bacterial infection – systemic or localized to region of injection, (b) bleeding diatheses, (c) hematological conditions, and (d) possible pregnancy.
Relative Contraindications: Relative contraindications of these injections may include: (a) allergy to contrast or shellfish, (b) poorly controlled diabetes mellitus and/or hypertension.
Drugs affecting coagulation, such as aspirin, NSAIDs and other anti-platelets or anti-coagulants require restriction from use. Decisions regarding the number of restricted days should be made in consultation with the prescribing physician and other knowledgeable experts.
Epidural Steroid Spinal Injections (ESI):
Description – Epidural steroid injections (ESI) deliver corticosteroid into the epidural space. The purpose of ESI is to reduce pain and inflammation, restoring range-of-motion and thereby facilitating progress in more active treatment programs. ESI uses three approaches: transforaminal, translaminar (midline), and caudal.
Needle Placement – Multi-planar fluoroscopic imaging is required for all transforaminal epidural steroid injections. Injection of contrast dye is necessary to verify needle placement and flow of medication into the epidural space. Permanent images are required to verify needle placement.
Indications for acute exacerbations – There is some evidence that epidural steroid injections are effective for patients with radicular pain or radiculopathy (sensory or motor loss in a specific dermatome or myotome). They are not recommended for chronic axial pain. There is some evidence that ESI injections in the low back are not effective for spinal stenosis without radicular findings. Additionally, there is some evidence in studies of the lumbar spine that patients who smoke or who have pain unaffected by rest or activity are less likely to have a successful outcome from ESIs ( Division of Workers’ Compensation [DOWC] Low Back Pain Medical Treatment Guidelines [MTG], 2007).
Indications for chronic radicular pain - Injections for chronic radiculopathy are rarely appropriate. Steroid injections are thought to act by decreasing the acute/subacute swelling and chemical reaction resulting form a disc herniation. Herniated discs in a chronic state would not benefit from this type of treatment. There is some evidence that about 50% of patients with chronic radicular pain will have a clinically meaningful decrease in pain and disability lasting at least 3 months from one injection of anesthetic or anesthetic with steroids (Ng L 2005). Generally, epidural injections should be limited to acute exacerbations of radicular pain at the same location as the work-related injury. There may be a small sub-population of patients with chronic radiculopathy who receive benefit from an injection. Repeated injections are frequently unnecessary and should only be done when documented functional improvement occurs, which may include a return to baseline function or ability to continue working. A positive result would include a return to base line function, return to increased work duties, and a measurable improvement in physical activity goals including return to baseline after an exacerbation and achieved for at least 3 months.
Time to Produce Effect: Local anesthetic, less than 30 minutes; corticosteroid, 48 to 72 hours for 80% of patients and 72 hours to 2 weeks for 20% of patients.
Frequency: One or more divided levels can be injected in one session. Whether injections are repeated depends upon the patient’s response to the previous injection session. For acute documented recurrent disc herniation with new radicular intensity, subsequent injection sessions may occur after 1 to 2 weeks if patient response has been favorable. If the first injection does not provide a diagnostic response of temporary and sustained pain relief (at least 2 to 6 weeks) substantiated by accepted pain scales (i.e., 80% pain reduction as measured by tools such as VAS) and improvement in function, similar injections should not be repeated.
For chronic radiculopathy, injections may be repeated only if when a functional documented response lasts for 3 months. Patients should be reassessed after each injection session for an 80% improvement in pain (as measured by accepted pain scales) and evidence of functional improvement. A positive result would include a return to base line function, return to increased work duties, and a measurable improvement in physical activity goals including return to baseline after an exacerbation.
Optimum/Maximum Duration: No more than 4 in 1 year. Injections may only be repeated when the above functional and time goals are met. Repeated injections with steroids should be done with caution especially in patients who have received other steroid injections or oral steroid therapy as higher yearly total doses of steroids may be associated with an increase in osteoarthritis (Felson D 1987).
Zygapophyseal (Facet) Injections:
Description – A generally accepted intra-articular or pericapsular injection of local anesthetic and corticosteroid. Medial branch nerve blocks may be diagnostic only. There is conflicting evidence to support a long-term therapeutic effect using facet injections. There is no justification for a combined facet and medial branch block.
Zygapophyseal injections have almost no role in acute and subacute low back and thus are only permitted in chronic low back pain if there is indication in low back pain/cervical guideline that the patient meets the criteria for a diagnostic injection.
Patients should be reassessed after each injection session for an 80% improvement in pain (as measured by accepted pain scales) and evidence of functional improvement for 6 months. A positive result would include a return to base line function, return to increased work duties, and measurable improvement in physical activity goals including return to baseline after an exacerbation.
Time to Produce Effect: Low back pain: 48 to 72 hours for corticosteroid). Up to 30 minutes for local anesthetic; corticosteroid up to 72 hours.
Optimum/Maximum Duration: 2 for each applicable joint per year. Injections may only be repeated when the above functional and time goals are met.
Sacroiliac Joint Injections:
Description - A generally accepted injection of local anesthetic in an intra-articular fashion into the sacroiliac joint under radiographic guidance. May include the use of corticosteroids. Long-term therapeutic effect has not yet been established.
SI joint injections have almost no role in acute and subacute low back and thus are only permitted in chronic low back pain if there is strong evidence per the indications in low back pain guideline that the patient meets the criteria for a diagnostic injection.
A successful injection should document relief from previously painful maneuvers (e.g., Patrick’s test) on post-injection physical exam. Patients should be reassessed after each injection session for an 80% improvement in pain (as measured by accepted pain scales) and evidence of functional improvement for 6 months. A positive result would include a return to base line function, return to increased work duties, and a measurable improvement in physical activity goals including return to baseline after an exacerbation
Time to Produce Effect: Approximately 30 minutes for local anesthetic; 48 to 72 hours for corticosteroid.
Optimum/Maximum Duration: 2 per year. Injections may only be repeated when the above functional and time goals are met.
Intradiscal Steroid Therapy: consists of injection of a steroid preparation into the intervertebral disc under fluoroscopic guidance at the time of discography. There is good evidence that it is not effective in the treatment of suspected discogenic back pain and its use is not recommended (DOWC [Low Back Pain MTG], 2007).
Radio Frequency Medial Branch Neurotomy/Facet Rhizotomy:
i. Description A procedure designed to denervate the facet joint by ablating the corresponding sensory medial branches. Continuous percutaneous radiofrequency is the method generally used.
There is good evidence to support Radio Frequency Medial Branch Neurotomy in the cervical spine but benefits beyond one year are not yet established (DOWC [Low Back Pain MTG], 2007). Evidence in the lumbar spine is conflicting; however, the procedure is generally accepted. In one study, 60% of patients maintained at least 90% pain relief at 12 months. Radio frequency Medial Branch Neurotomy is the procedure of choice over alcohol, phenol, or cryoablation. Precise positioning of the probe using fluoroscopic guidance is required since the maximum effective diameter of the device is a 5x8 millimeter oval. Permanent images should be recorded to verify placement of the device.
ii. Indications Those patients with proven, significant, facetogenic pain. A minority of low back patients would be expected to qualify for this procedure. This procedure is not recommended for patients with multiple pain generators or involvement of more than 3 levels of medial branch nerves.
Individuals should have met all of the following indications: Pain of well-documented facet origin, typically with extension and/or rotation unresponsive to active and/or passive therapy, unresponsive to manual therapy, and in which a psychosocial screening has been performed (e.g., pain diagram, Waddell’s signs, thorough psychosocial history, screening questionnaire). It is generally recommended that this procedure not be performed until three months of active therapy and manual therapy have been completed. All patients should continue appropriate exercise with functionally directed rehabilitation. Active treatment, which patients will have had prior to the procedure, is essential and will frequently require a repeat of the sessions previously ordered (Refer to section E. 11, Active Therapy.)
All patients should have a successful response to a diagnostic medial nerve branch block and a separate comparative block. ISIS suggests controlled blocks using either placebo or anesthetics with varying lengths of activity (i.e., bupivacaine longer than lidocaine). To be a positive diagnostic block the patient should report a reduction of pain of 80% or greater from baseline for the length of time appropriate for the local anesthetic used. In almost all cases this will mean a reduction of pain to 1 or 2 on the VAS 10-point scale correlated with functional improvement. The patient should also identify activities of daily living (which may include measurements of range-of-motion) that are impeded by their pain and can be observed to document functional improvement in the clinical setting. Ideally, these activities should be assessed throughout the observation period for function. The observer should not be the physician who performed the procedure. It is suggested that this be recorded on a form similar to ISIS recommendations.
A separate comparative block on a different date should be performed to confirm the level of involvement. A comparative block uses anesthetics with varying lengths of activity.
iii. Complications Bleeding, infection, or neural injury. The clinician must be aware of the risk of developing a localized neuritis, or rarely, a deafferentation centralized pain syndrome as a complication of this and other neuroablative procedures.
iv. Post-Procedure Therapy Active therapy. Implementation of a gentle aerobic reconditioning program (e.g., walking) and back education within the first post-procedure week, barring complications. Instruction and participation in a long-term home-based program of ROM, core strengthening, postural or neuromuscular re-education, endurance, and stability exercises should be accomplished over a period of four to ten visits post-procedure.
v. Requirements for Repeat Radiofrequency Medial Branch Neurotomy (or additional-level RF Neurotomies): In some cases pain may recur. Successful RF Neurotomy usually provides from six to eighteen months of relief.
Before a repeat RF Neurotomy is done, a confirmatory medial branch injection should be performed if the patient’s pain pattern presents differently than the initial evaluation. The long-term effects of repeat rhizotomies, especially on younger patients are unknown. There is a possibility that repeated denervation could result in premature degenerative changes. In addition the patient should always reconsider all of the possible permanent complications before consenting to a repeat procedure. There are no studies addressing the total number of RF neurotomies that should be done for a patient. The patient should document 6 to 18 months minimum improvement.
In occasional patients, additional levels of RF neurotomy may be necessary. The initial indications including repeat blocks and limitations apply.
Optimum/Maximum duration twice in the first year after the initial rhizotomy and once a year after, up to 12 total. They may only be repeated when the patient demonstrates functional improvement
Dorsal Nerve Root Ganglion Radiofrequency Ablation: Percutaneous radiofrequency partial lesioning of the dorsal root ganglion is a procedure intended to decrease persistent impairing radicular pain. There is some evidence that continuous RF for lumbar radicular pain does not result in improved pain and functional outcomes (Geurts J 2003). Follow up of patients who had a dorsal nerve root ganglia procedure for failed low back surgery reported 2 out of 13 patients had a 50% reduction in pain and were satisfied with the procedure at 2 years. Fifty per cent or more of the group also reported worse sensory and motor findings (North R 1991). There is some evidence from a small study that pulsed RF used in patients with chronic cervical radicular pain who demonstrated a 50% reduction in pain on a diagnostic block will provide at least a 50% pain relief for 3 months (Van Zundert J 2007). Recurrence of pain is common after 3 months with no significant effect at 6 months (Simopoulos T 2008). No significant improvement in general function was documented. Due to the combination of possible adverse side effects, time limited effectiveness, and mixed study results, this therapy is not recommended. American Society of Anesthesiologist practice guidelines do not recommend routine use (ASA, 2010). This treatment is not recommended.
Trigger Point Injections and Dry Needling Treatment:
i. Description Trigger point injections are a generally accepted treatment. Trigger point treatment can consist of dry needling or injection of local anesthetic, with or without corticosteroid, into highly localized, extremely sensitive bands of skeletal muscle fibers that produce local and referred pain when activated. There is conflicting evidence regarding the benefit of trigger point injections Division of Workers’ Compensation [DOWC], [Low Back Pain Medical Treatment Guidelines-(MTG)] 2007. A truly blinded study comparing dry needle treatment of trigger points is not feasible. There is no evidence that injection of medications improves the results of trigger point injections. Needling alone may account for some of the therapeutic response.
There is no indication for conscious sedation for patients receiving trigger point injections. The patient must be alert to help identify the site of the injection.
ii. Indications – Trigger point injections may be used to relieve myofascial pain and facilitate active therapy and stretching of the affected areas. They are to be used as an adjunctive treatment in combination with other active treatment modalities. Trigger point injections should be utilized primarily for the purpose of facilitating functional progress. Patients should continue in an aggressive aerobic and stretching therapeutic exercise program as tolerated throughout the time period they are undergoing intensive myofascial interventions. Myofascial pain is often associated with other underlying structural problems and any abnormalities need to be ruled out prior to injection.
For acute exacerbations trigger point injections are indicated in those patients where well-circumscribed trigger points have been consistently observed, demonstrating a local twitch response characteristic radiation of pain pattern and local autonomic reaction, such as persistent hyperemia following palpation. Generally, these injections are not necessary unless consistently observed trigger points are not responding to specific, noninvasive, myofascial interventions within approximately a 6-week time frame.
Complications – Potential but rare complications of trigger point injections include infection, pneumothorax, and anaphylaxis, penetration of viscera, neurapraxia and neuropathy. If corticosteroids are injected in addition to local anesthetic, there is a risk of local myopathy developing. Severe pain on injection suggests the possibility of an intraneural injection, and the needle should be immediately repositioned.
Patients should be reassessed after each injection session for an 80% improvement in pain (as measured by accepted pain scales) and evidence of functional improvement for 3 months. A positive result would include a return to base line function, return to increased work duties, and measurable improvement in physical activity goals including return to baseline after an exacerbation.
Time to Produce Effect: Local anesthetic 30 minutes; 24 to 48 hours for no anesthesia.
Frequency: No more than 4 injection sites per session per week for acute exacerbations only, to avoid significant post-injection soreness.
Optimum Duration/Maximum: 4 sessions per year. Injections may only be repeated when the above functional and time goals are met.