About 30% of Americans suffer from neck pain every year. Are you one of them? If so, do you know why your neck hurts? Knowing the cause is an important step in treating it.
For instance, if you got whiplash in a car accident, you can treat the strained muscles and sprained ligaments with rest, ice, heat, and other therapies. If you have tech neck — the pain that comes from extended periods of typing, texting, and gaming — similar treatments apply.
But if you have arthritis, you know that it’s a degenerative disease that can’t be cured, so managing your pain becomes your focus.
Likewise, unexplained neck pain that won’t respond to traditional treatments and lifestyle changes like losing weight and physical therapy, leaves you with only one course of action — alternative treatments to stop the pain.
Although some medications can be extremely effective, there are many reasons to avoid drugs if possible, including dependency and resistance. Fortunately, you have a choice: radiofrequency ablation.
Shachi Patel, MD, at Delmarva Pain and Spine Center in Newark, Delaware, specializes in helping our patients overcome their pain so they can get back to life as usual.
And one of her most effective treatments is radiofrequency ablation, a drug-free technique that alters the way your body responds to pain signals. Here’s what you need to know.
A word about pain
When you feel pain, it’s the result of a complex biomechanical process taking place in your body.
Simply explained, your nerves respond to a stimulus like a poke from a sewing needle or a blow to the head. Those nerves generate electrical signals and send them to your brain, and your brain registers the message as pain.
About half of people with neck pain go on to suffer chronic pain issues, all because of a tiny electrical signal.
Hijacking your pain with radiofrequency ablation
When you’ve tried everything to stop your neck pain, but nothing seems to work, it may be time to interfere with that electrical messaging system between your nerves and your brain, which is exactly the idea behind radiofrequency ablation.
Identifying the nerves responsible for your pain is fairly easy, even when we don’t understand why they’re sending pain signals in the first place.
Depending on your symptoms, Dr. Patel inserts a very thin nerve probe into your neck, and when you tell her you feel a sensation of tingling or pain, she knows the target treatment area is identified.
To stop the nerve from sending the electric pain signals, she performs the radiofrequency ablation procedure.
Again, Dr. Patel inserts a narrow instrument called a cannula into the area where she identified the target nerve, but this time she sends a radiofrequency electrode through the cannula until it’s close to the nerve.
The energy from the electrode heats up the nerve and renders it unable to send any more pain signals to your brain. Given the complexity of the human nervous system, individual results vary, with some of our patients reporting modest pain reduction while others see dramatic results.
Most of our radiofrequency ablation patients experience pain relief for six months to a year, but some patients remain pain-free for several years.
What does radiofrequency ablation feel like?
Nothing. Thanks to a local anesthetic, you don’t feel a thing when Dr. Patel locates your painful nerve or when she neutralizes it with radiofrequency ablation.
The process takes place here in our office, and you’re free to go home the same day as soon as Dr. Patel releases you (but you need to make arrangements for a friend or family member to drive you home).
Your neck pain may continue for the next few days while your tissues heal and your body transitions, but you can expect to be far less dependent on pain medications immediately. You may even be able to stop taking them completely.
This reprieve allows you to participate in physical therapy to a fuller extent than before, so you can work toward strengthening your support muscles and possibly stop the source of your pain for good.
If you’ve been suffering from unresolved neck pain and can’t find a treatment that works, call us at Delmarva Pain and Spine Center to schedule a consultation with Dr. Patel and find out if you’re a good candidate for radiofrequency ablation.