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Zapping Back Pain with RF: March 6, 2014

Back pain: a troublesome condition for millions of Americans. For some it’s a passing pain- for others there seems to be no relief. Either way it is one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor.

“Where pain seems to generate the most from are generally age dependent. Also how athletic they are, what type of work they do. Low back pain tends to be the most pain complaint that we see,” says Dr. Andrew Gross, interventional pain specialist on Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

When back pain becomes a chronic condition, many patients are moving on to a ‘nerve numbing’ procedure. Called radio frequency ablation, the technique uses heat to zap the offending nerves.

“They really are only sensory nerves. So they only sense pain or inflammation in the joint area. And you can get very specific by blocking those nerves and actually directing a very small needle with a hallowed out tip and it has a probe that vibrates with a radio frequency current and creates an illusion of the nerve and it burns it,” says Dr. Gross.

Using radio frequency to block nerves can be a game changer; especially for people who are caught in the middle - between drug treatments that no longer work and going all in on back surgery. The trade off is these nerves grow back in time.

“Nerves generally have a set rate of how they grow back. And so what we’ve discovered is it makes a difference how big of a lesion you can make in the nerve, sometimes it will take a lot longer to grow back. Ideally forever would be nice,” says Dr. Gross.

The end game is to use radio frequency to disable nerves, so pain won’t disable your life.