Age may have its privileges, but unfortunately, the aches and pains of aging can make it hard to enjoy life’s simple pleasures, like spending time with family and friends or pursuing lifelong hobbies.
The good news, however, is that advances in pain medicine and minimally invasive interventional procedures means we can address many of those aches and pains. We may not be able to make them disappear entirely, but we can reduce the pain to such a degree that our senior patients can participate in the things they enjoy and regain their quality of life.
I am always pleased when I am asked to visit one of the many senior living communities in Frederick County because I want to share a simple message with the residents: old age doesn’t have to be a pain.
Treatments for common conditions among older adults
In fact, we now have in the ability to treat a number of conditions that are common among older adults but that only 30 or 40 years ago would have left many people practically disabled. They include:
- Kyphoplasty/vertebroplasty for spinal compression fractures. As we age, our back bones (the vertebra) tend to get brittle. But they don’t “snap” as other bones in the body do when they break. Spinal bones tend to crumble and lose their height. We can now insert a small balloon into the broken bone and inflate it so that we can inject a special cement into the bone to raise it to its normal height. This relieves the pressure on nearby nerves and usually results in an immediate resolution of pain.
- Viscosupplementation can help reduce the pain associated with knee arthritis. We inject a material that mimics the body’s own natural lubricating joint fluid to help alleviate pain and stiffness, often for months at a time.
- Spinal stenosis is common in older adults as the spinal column gradually narrows over time and begins to push on nearby nerves and cause significant pain in the legs. But through spinal cord stimulation, we can now implant small electrical wires near the spinal cord that receive electrical impulses. A small external device can be used to “zap” feelings of pain and discomfort and replace them with a more pleasing tingling feeling.
- Even patients who have had previous back surgery that was unsuccessful in resolving their pain may find relief in our offices. Those suffering from post-laminectomy syndrome (also known as failed back surgery syndrome) might benefit from radiofrequency neurotomy (ablation). This procedure uses heat to deaden nerve endings that send pain signals.
These procedures, and many others, can be performed right in our offices under local anesthesia, usually in just under two hours. The are no open incisions because they are done using x-ray guidance and small, precise needles.