It can be frustrating, getting repeated treatments for chronic low back pain that just won't go away no matter what. There could be fresh hope, however, in the form a new minimally-invasive treatment that involves zapping herniated disks with an electric probe.

Developed by a team led by Dr. Alessandro Napoli from Sapienza University of Rome, the process uses CT (computerized tomography) imaging to guide a needle to the problematic disk. A thin probe is subsequently inserted through that needle, so that it can deliver pulsed radiofrequency energy to the area over a 10-minute period – the probe doesn't actually touch the herniated disc, but instead acts on the muscles in the area.

"Following this treatment, inflammation and pain go away," says Napoli. "With relaxation of the muscles, the distance between the vertebrae returns."

In a single-center clinical study, 80 patients received the treatment. All of them had been experiencing low back pain for at least three months, due to a herniated disk that had not responded to treatments such as exercise and medication.

After just one 10-minute session, 81 percent of the test subjects were pain-free, and remained so a year later. Six of them required a second treatment, and 90 percent of them were able to avoid surgery. None of them experienced any side effects.

"The results have been extraordinary," Napoli states. "Patients have been relieved of pain and resumed their normal activities within a day."