For patients suffering from chronic pain, a new, non-invasive knee treatment could bring relief when surgery is not an option. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint when the cartilage wears off over time, often striking big joints like the knee, causing pain, swelling and stiffness. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, nearly 10 million Americans had osteoarthritis of the knee in 2010.
The FDA just approved “Coolief,” a cooled radiofrequency ablation, to help those with moderate to severe osteoarthritis pain. Less drastic than knee replacement surgery, doctors inject specialized needles that emit radio-frequencies. The radio frequencies freeze the nerves to stop the pain. This does not change the structure of the knee or get rid of the arthritis, but by eliminating the pain, doctors hope this will allow patients to regain a functional lifestyle.
Coolief was compared to popular cortisone injection in a 2016 study, and patients reported greater, longer-lasting pain relief, for 6-12 months depending on how quickly the knee regenerates the frozen nerves.
For one patient, Felicia McCloden, a 65-year-old grandmother from outside of Chicago, knee replacement wasn’t an option and cortisone injections weren’t helping the pain, “I thought I was going to limp for the rest of my life.”
Last May, McCloden underwent the Coolief procedure and her relief was immediate, “I couldn’t even imagine first of all, not having the pain,” she said. “It erased all of that.”
Being a new treatment, Coolief is not widely available, but is used in specialty practices across the nation. Premier Pain Centers of New Jersey offer this treatment to patients as a substitute for surgery or cortisone injections.
This procedure takes about 40 minutes to complete with local anesthesia and without an incision. Due to the minimally invasive needles, recovery time is short – most patients walk immediately following the procedure and resume normal activities in a day or two. While this is not a permanent solution for osteoarthritis, it can stop the pain, but not the progression of osteoarthritis.
In some patients with structural knee damage, Coolief isn’t able to help. But because Coolief can be repeated, it can delay the need for total knee replacement surgery.