For the better part of 40 years, Jack Inge lived in fear of knowing that the simple act of stepping off a curb might trigger back pain that could leave him flat on his back, nursing pain that was so severe he couldn’t even go to work.
So when Inge walked out of the National Spine & Pain Centers office in Woodbridge, Virginia almost pain free shortly after Ashish G. Shanbhag, M.D., performed radiofrequency neurotomy to the nerves in his lower back (technically known as the lumbar facet medial branches), he couldn’t wait to spread the good news about his procedure.
For Inge, “It was like a miracle.” The treatment has now allowed Inge to play golf three times a week without debilitating pain. “Dr. Shanbhag is a golfer himself so when I told him how my pain was really starting to interfere with my golf game, he knew where I was coming from.”
Inge told Dr. Shanbhag about how years of taking pain medications, visits to chiropractors, and physical therapists had done little to bring him any long-term relief. Eventually, Inge’s physical therapist recommended he visit National Spine & Pain Centers in Woodbridge, Virginia, where he met Dr. Shanbhag. After performing a history and physical examination, as part of the workup, Dr. Shanbhag ordered an MRI of Inge’s back. “He wouldn’t do a procedure on me without an MRI of my back,” Inge recalled. The scan revealed that Inge suffered from a degenerated spine, with bone spurs and arthritis in his back, which were felt to be the major contributors to the low back pain he was experiencing. With that information in hand, along with the clinical impression of low back pain due to facet joint dysfunction, Dr. Shanbhag initially recommended Inge to undergo image guided diagnostic facet joint nerve injections to his low back. After receiving temporary relief with these injections, confirming the source of his pain due to the facet joints, Dr. Shanbhag then recommended radiofrequency neurotomy to the facet joint nerves for longer term pain relief and functional gains.
Radiofrequency neurotomy is a minimally invasive therapeutic treatment to the spinal facet joint nerves, which works by interrupting the sensory nerve supply to the inflamed or irritated facet joints. The facet joints are the small joints located between each vertebra (spine bone), serving as “struts” that provide the spine with both stability and flexibility. After applying a local skin anesthetic, Dr. Shanbhag used fluoroscopy (x-ray) guidance to place special radiofrequency needles alongside the nerves that supply the facet joints. After testing to ensure that the needle tips were in the correct position, Dr. Shanbhag then applied thermal, radiofrequency energy to deactivate the nerves.
“I walked out of there 70 to 90 percent pain free,” Inge said. “Dr. Shanbhag hit right on the nerves that were causing my pain. My pain level has dropped to half of what it was.”
A successful radiofrequency neurotomy typically provides relief for six to 12 months, and some patients may enjoy pain relief for two years or longer. “My ultimate goal is to be pain free for a least one year and maybe more,” Inge says.
But for now he’s very grateful to Dr. Shanbhag and the staff at National Spine & Pain Centers in Woodbridge, Virginia for ensuring that the only thing standing between him and a good day on the links is a bad swing — not a bad back.