My mother’s favorite expression when we were kids was, “I have one nerve left and you are on it!” I never really understood this expression until I developed a herniated disc in my low back that is pressing on a nerve. Ouch! As a chemical engineer myself, I can’t help but wonder why we can’t come up with a product like Pam or teflon to spray on nerves. This would coat them with a protective covering and (in theory at least) keep them from getting overheated. Has anyone ever done anything like this?

Actually, a report of a FDA-monitored clinical trial just came out about a product that sounds suspiciously like what you are asking about. It’s called oxiplex gel and the reported results sound good so far.

Oxiplex gel is made up of carboxymethylcelulose, polyethylene oxide, and calcium. It can be applied to all the soft tissues around the surgical site after discectomy (disc removed to take pressure off the nerve). A coating of the gel is placed on the nerve root, annulus fibrosus (covering around the disc), and dura (lining around the spinal cord). It works like teflon to create a mechanical barrier that keeps out pain messages. And it even reduces the amount of scar tissue called fibrosis that can develop after surgery.

In this particular study, two groups of patients were compared: one group received the oxiplex while the second (control) group did not. Patients in both groups had the same surgical procedure: a single level laminectomy or laminotomy and discectomy. A laminectomy involves cutting away some of the back of the vertebral bone (the lamina) in order to remove the central portion of the herniated disc. In a laminotomy, the surgeon drills a hole through the lamina to aspirate (suck out) the disc.

The results were measured based on back and leg pain before and after surgery and presence of other distressing (adverse) symptoms. Patient satisfaction and number of disability days were also compared. And each patient was examined for neurological and motor function (e.g., numbness, weakness, dizziness, headache, loss of sensation, muscle or joint pain, stiffness, muscle spasm). The last comparison made between the two groups was the number of reoperations necessary due to pain.

After analyzing all the data collected, they found that for patients with severe pain before surgery, the use of oxiplex gel made a significant difference. Those folks had less postoperative back and leg pain, fewer reoperations, and greater satisfaction with the results. There were also fewer patients in the oxiplex gel group who had adverse effects after surgery and there were fewer abnormal musculoskeletal problems as well.

From this preliminary study, it looks like this new oxiplex gel is safe and effective for relieving the postoperative pain many patients experience after discectomy. This was especially true for the more challenging patients who had severe back pain before surgery (a group likely to experience persistent pain after surgery).

One of the other advantages of the oxiplex gel was the prevention of cerebrospinal fluid leaks. With the gel painted on the dura, the fluid was contained, which also prevented any postoperative headaches. Other applications of this product may be discovered with further research and study. From what we know so far, you are spot on with your suggestion!