St. Joseph’s now offers a new procedure for long-lasting relief from back pain: radiofrequency ablation (RFA).
For the past nine years, Carol Bonnett’s every move, and life in general, has been dictated by excruciating back pain. Standing for any length of time, sitting for long periods, bending, reaching - all have been hardships or simply impossible.
It began with a fall at work in 2003. Surgery, numerous doctors, medications, injections, infusions, pumps, acupuncture – nothing worked well and the pain eventually took over. Simple tasks and small pleasures, such as cooking, dinner out, car trips, grocery shopping, and picking up her grandchild, were all frustrating hurdles.
“My whole life and that of my family was shaped by the pain,” says Carol.
But 2012 began with “a gift”. That’s how Carol explains a new procedure now available through St. Joseph’s Pain Management Program. In January, the St. Thomas nurse became the first patient at St. Joseph’s to undergo radiofrequency ablation (RFA) in which radio waves are used to create heat and destroy nerve tissue to decrease pain signals from a specific joint in the spine.
While traditional treatments for back pain, such as injections and infusions, provide only six to eight weeks of pain relief, RFA has been shown to last about 10 months, and even up to two years, explains physiatrist Dr. Eldon Loh.
“It’s a much more sustainable option,” says Dr. Loh. “With cortisone injections, people generally return after three months to have another injection.”
RFA is most commonly used to treat pain originating in the facet joints, which line both sides of the spine. Using fluoroscopy, or live X-ray, the specialist guides a needle into the spine so that the tip is very near the nerve that travels to the facet joint. Once in the right place, the surrounding tissue is heated by the tip of the needle to cauterize and destroy the nerve. The goal is to decrease pain, so that a patient can participate more fully in therapy and activity and reduce their pain medications.
“With long-lasting pain relief, people get back their mobility, allowing them to take part in exercise and active rehabilitation to improve conditioning” says Loh.
For the first time in years, Carol can do something as simple as bend to take a dish out of the dishwasher and enjoy a whole meal sitting at the kitchen table. She’s not totally pain free, however, as pain in her leg persists - a problem she hopes to find a solution to as well.
Everything changes when your pain is lifted,” says the 63-year-old. “You can’t imagine. I’m even looking into exercise classes. It’s beyond belief. I’m so happy I took this chance.”