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Discogenic pain has been implicated as the etiology of low back pain in approximately 45% of patients with axial low back pain.1, 2, and 3 Despite this relatively large incidence, discogenic pain diagnosis and treatment remains controversial, as many patients are relegated to surgery secondary to an antiquated treatment algorithm and lack of a clear minimally invasive alternative.


IDET was introduced by Saal and Saal in 1996 with data suggesting:4,5


  • Improved outcomes

  • Significant reductions in VAS

  • Less disability

  • Enhance functionality

  • Analgesic medication reduction


Numerous studies supported its use, and although promising, critics questioned the scientific validity of the study, noting nonrandomization, uncontrolled study design and potential observer bias.5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, and 25 Mekhail and Kapural demonstrated a 78% decrease in VAS as well as significant improvement in activities of daily living in properly selected patients.20 Pauza et al performed a randomized, placebo controlled trial with a sham control arm.5 Forty percent of the treatment arm had at least 50% pain reduction, 21% experienced more than 80% pain reduction. The authors concluded that IDET was a viable therapy for an intractable discogenic pain.6 However, the technique has fallen out of favor due to a lack of reproducible outcomes, which is probably due to a poor patient selection, as well as inadequate and inconsistent reimbursement by third party payers. Although challenges remain, IDET is a viable therapy for selected patients.




  • The intervertebral disc is composed of the nucleus pulposus (NP) encased by the annulus fibrosis (AF), sandwiched between the vertebral endplates.

  • The disc is bound posterolaterally by the facet joints, anteriorly by the anterior longitudinal ligament (ALL), and posteriorly by the posterior longitudinal ligament (PLL).

  • The NP is composed of proteoglycans, collagen, and water.

  • The AF composed of concentric fibrocartilaginous fibers running obliquely and inserting into the vertebral end plates via the Sharpley fibers, with more reinforcement anteriorly.

  • There is no direct vasculature to the intervertebral, and consequently, diffusion of nutrients is required.

  • The segmental radicular arteries, entering near the anterior-cephalad portion of the neuroforamina, supplies the vertebra body and indirectly the disc.


The nerve supply of the disc is complex, as the sinuvertebral nerves (via the Luschka nerves) provide posterior coverage, while branches of the lumbar ventral rami, along with the gray ramus communicans, innervate ventral annulus as four separate ramus communicans nerves innervate each disc. Pain receptors have been identified in the outer third of the AP, the PLL, periosteum, paraspinal musculature, ligaments, and facet joints, as shown in Figure 35-1.

Figure 35-1.

Anatomy and innervation of the intervertebral disc.


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