Break Free from Pain––Get Back to Living
By Michael Catino, M.D., and Jennifer Zahn, M.D., M.P.H., Denton County LIVING WELL Magazine
Through the course of a lifetime, your spine experiences a lot of wear and tear. Every time you walk, settle in a chair or hug a loved one, your spine is in motion. Over time, various areas of the spine can show signs of aging resulting in conditions such as disc protrusions, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis. While these degenerative conditions of the spine can be uncomfortable, they don’t have to be debilitating.
“As an orthopedic spine surgeon, it’s my goal to help individuals find relief from back pain caused by degenerative spine conditions and improve their quality of life,” says Michael Catino, M.D., of North Texas Neck and Back. “Innovative and minimally invasive techniques are available for the diagnosis and treatment of many spinal conditions. At North Texas Neck and Back, we take a conservative, non-operative approach to care whenever possible.”
Back pain, stiffness, and sciatica (leg pain) are some early tell-tale signs of spinal degeneration. Good options for early treatment include home exercise programs, activity modification, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and physical therapy to help strengthen and restore flexibility to core muscles. When pain secondary to these degenerative conditions persists, interventional pain management may be a very reasonable treatment option.
Getting to the Root of the Pain
Interventional pain management is an approach used to stimulate the nerves, muscles and joints and interrupt the flow of pain signals in the body. Interventional pain management as a treatment for back pain is focused on highly specialized, non-surgical techniques such as injections and radiofrequency ablation.
“In the management of chronic lower back pain, the value of nerve blocks and stimulators has long been recognized,” says Jennifer Zahn, M.D., M.P.H., physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at North Texas Neck and Back. “Researchers and physicians alike are increasingly excited about new medical advances to block nerve growth factors, proteins in cells that are consistently elevated in those who experience chronic back pain.”
Our joints are bathed in a clear, gel-like substance (synovial fluid) that provides lubrication. Within this fluid is hyaluronic acid, which deteriorates in individuals who experience osteoarthritis, disc degeneration and other painful spine conditions. Localized cortisone, trigger point and facet (vertebral) joint injections can provide powerful and long-lasting benefit to individuals suffering from pain and inflammation due to such deterioration, and a series of injections may only be needed once every six months.
“Spinal and joint injections buy time in the vast majority of patients, and side effects with this kind of treatment are rare,” according to Dr. Zahn.
Injections can also take the form of nerve root or branch blocks in selective areas of the back to promote nerve degeneration, reduce swelling and ultimately bring pain relief. Electrical nerve or spinal cord stimulators may be used to interfere with nerve impulses as well, and have shown to be effective in the treatment of chronic lower back pain.
Turning Up the Heat
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) or lesioning is a newer advanced treatment option to reduce pain. An electrical current produced by a radio wave is used to heat up a small area of nerve tissue, thereby decreasing pain signals from that specific area. Radiofrequency ablation has proven to be effective in helping individuals who suffer from chronic lower back and neck pain and pain related to the degeneration of joints from arthritis.
The degree of pain relief varies, depending on the cause and location of the pain. Pain relief from RFA can last from six to 12 months, and in some cases, patients report relief that lasts for years.
Returning to an Active Lifestyle
“Always discuss all available treatment options with a spine specialist before beginning any pain management program,” Dr. Catino advises. “My responsibility and focus as an orthopedic surgeon is to safely relieve your discomfort and return you to an active lifestyle. I personally strive to give my patients the ability to wake up in the morning without the worry of pain. When the pain fails to improve with non-operative treatments, tailored surgical options are discussed to meet my patients’ needs. Nothing is more gratifying than to see someone who has been suffering get back to living life.”
North Texas Neck and Back is a Texas Health Physicians Group practice located at 2900 I-35 North, Medical Building 1, Suite 300, in Denton. Drs. Michael Catino and Jennifer Zahn are committed to your spine and musculoskeletal health. Contact them at 940-323-3480 or www.NorthTexasNeckandBack.com.