A new medical procedure could improve quality of life for millions of people after they undergo knee replacement surgery.

The treatment offers arthritis patients long term pain relief and an alternative to highly addictive painkillers, say scientists.

Arthritis or similar health conditions can make the joints, including knees and hips, extremely painful.

A growing number of patients are getting knee replacement surgery in the hope of regaining some mobility and quality of life. But between 15 and 30 percent of those who go under the knife continue to experience pain and stiffness. While some decide to go through surgery again, there is no guarantee this will solve the problem.

Now, scientists in the United States have tested a new procedure which could offer them long-term relief at last.

Assistant professor Felix Gonzalez at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta said, “A lot of patients don’t achieve any resolution of pain.

“It’s a big problem, and up till now, there weren’t any other options.”

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The procedure, dubbed cooled radio frequency ablation (C-RFA), involves using a large needle to target specific nerve locations around the knee while the patient is under general anaesthetic.

A probe is then guided to the location before emitting a low voltage current—or radio frequency to the deep sensory nerves around the knee.

Dr Gonzalez said,  “With a larger propagating heat wave, you can account for the differences in nerve anatomy from patient to patient because of a larger treatment zone.

“Treating a larger zone increases the effectiveness of the procedure.”

The researchers surveyed 21 patients who had complete knee replacement surgery and were suffering from persistent chronic pain.

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They were asked to fill out clinically validated questionnaires to assess their level of pain and how it affected everyday physical tasks.

Follow-up surveys were collected a year after participants received the C-RFA procedure.

It showed the patients had experienced a “statistically significant improvement” in their quality of life, the researchers found.

Both pain and stiffness scores were improved dramatically and no major complications were reported.

Likewise, they did not require further medical treatments, including surgery or any other kind of intervention.

Dr Gonzalez said, “This procedure can have a huge impact on patients who have gone through major surgery and are still suffering pain that is very debilitating.”

The procedure’s long term relief gives it a “major advantage” over current treatments such as cortisone injections, which usually only work for a few months.

Dr Gonzalez said, “It’s very encouraging that up to a year out these patients have such significant pain relief and a better quality of life.

“The hope is that in that period of time, the patient can become more mobile and increase their activity.

MORE: There’s ‘No Link’ Between Exercise and Developing Arthritis in the Knee

“Even if pain comes back, we predict that it won’t come back with the same intensity as before.”

The new procedure, which the researcher describe as “minimally intrusive,” is also easily replicated if necessary and could reduce patients dependency on highly addictive opioid painkillers.

Dr Gonzalez said, “We hope that this procedure will become a standard of treatment for pain in this setting.”

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