The Washington Times - May 27, 2009, 12:25PM

 A non-surgical, radiologically guided injection of oxygen and ozone into bulging or herniated discs results in just as much pain relief and restoration of function as back surgery but with fewer complications and shorter recovery time, two recent studies revealed.

The groundbreaking therapy involves injecting a gaseous mixture of oxygen and ozone into a damaged spinal disc, using an imaging machine to guide the needle. The ozone causes a slight shrinkage of the disc, which relieves internal disc pressure and lessens back pain considerably. Researchers at the Society of Interventional Radiology predict this therapy will become standard in the United States in the next few years.


One study was an analysis of the data from a number of previous studies. It was done by Kieran J. Murphy, an interventional neuroradiologist and vice chair and chief of medical imaging at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario. The studies involved more than 8,000 back-pain patients who received the oxygen/ozone treatment.

Murphy found that the therapy reduced patients’ self-rating on a standard 10-point pain scale by a mean score of 3.9 points - a large drop. The treatment also improved the participants’ self-evaluation of their ability to manage everyday life in areas such as washing, dressing and standing by a mean score of 25.7 percent.

“The estimated improvement in pain and function is impressive when we looked at patients who ranged in age from 13 to 94 years with all types of disc herniations,” Murphy explained. “Equally important, pain and function outcomes are similar to the outcomes for lumbar discs treated with surgical discectomy, but the complication rate is much less - less than 0.1 percent. In addition, the recovery time is significantly shorter for the oxygen/ozone injection than for the discectomy.”

In Murphy’s second study, the research team discovered that the main element in the oxygen/ozone therapy’s complex mechanism of action in relieving low back pain is a volume reduction in the disc as a result of ozone oxidation. They found that reducing disc volume by 0.6 percent (a very small change) reduces pressure within the disc by 1 pound per square inch (a very large change). This diminishes pressure on the nerve, relieving pain.

“Having a herniated disk can affect how you perform everyday activities and can cause severe pain that influences almost everything you do; however, you don’t have to undergo invasive surgery,” said Murphy.

“The spine is a stunningly beautiful piece of engineering, or, as our engineers say, the spine is like a complex electromechanical system,” he continued. “And the interventional radiology oxygen/ozone treatment takes a minimalist approach. It’s all about being gentle.”