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Chronic localized back pain due to entrapment of cutaneous branches of posterior rami of the thoracic nerves (POCNES): a case series on diagnosis and management

Authors Maatman RC, Boelens OB, Scheltinga MRM, Roumen RMH

Received 27 June 2018

Accepted for publication 6 November 2018

Published 19 February 2019 Volume 2019:12 Pages 715—723


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Dr Erica Wegrzyn

Robbert C Maatman,1 Oliver B Boelens,2 Marc RM Scheltinga,1 Rudi MH Roumen1

1SolviMáx, Center of Expertise for ACNES, Center of Excellence for Chronic Abdominal Wall and Groin Pain, Department of Surgery, Máxima Medical Center, Veldhoven, The Netherlands; 2Department of Surgery, Maasziekenhuis Pantein, Boxmeer, The Netherlands

Introduction and aim: Chronic back pain (CBP) may be caused by a variety of conditions including dysfunctional muscles, ligaments or intervertebral discs, improper movement of vertebral column joints, or nerve root compression. Recently, CBP was treated successfully in a patient having an entrapment of cutaneous branches of the posterior rami of the thoracic nerves, termed posterior cutaneous nerve entrapment syndrome (POCNES). Our aim is to describe clinical presentation, differential diagnosis, and management of patients with such a neuropathic pain syndrome.
Methods: This study analyzed prospectively obtained data from consecutive patients suspected of having POCNES, presenting to two Dutch hospitals between January 2013 and September 2016. Patients received a diagnostic 2–5 mL 1% lidocaine injection just below the thoracolumbar fascia. Pain was scored using a numerical rating scale (0 = no pain to 10 = worst possible pain). A >50% pain reduction was defined as success. A neurectomy was proposed if pain reduction was temporary or insufficient after one to three injections. Long-term treatment effect was determined using a verbal rating scale (VRS; 1 = very satisfied, no pain, to 5 = pain worse).
Results: Fourteen patients (12 women, median age 26, age range 18–73) were diagnosed with POCNES. Eighty-one percent (n=11) reported a >50% pain drop after injection (NRS pain scores of median 8.0 [IQR 7.0–8.0] to median 3.0 [IQR 1.5–3.5], P<0.001). In one patient, repeated injections were successful long-term (VRS score of 2). Two patients declined surgery, whereas the remaining eleven underwent a neurectomy that was successful in seven (64%). A 57% long-term efficacy (median 29 months follow-up, range 5–48, VRS score 1–2) was attained in the entire study population.
Conclusion: POCNES should be considered in the differential diagnosis of chronic localized back pain. A treatment regimen including injections and neurectomy of the specific cutaneous branch results in long-term pain relief in more than half of these patients.

Keywords: chronic pain, neuropathic pain, chronic back pain, nerve entrapment

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