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Burning Back Pain with Radio Frequency Ablation: July 9, 2012

Back pain is one of the biggest reasons people visit the doctor. It’s often chronic, excruciating pain and keeps people from enjoying a normal life.

To see him today, you would never guess Mike MacDonald was incapacitated following a car crash a year ago.

“The worst thing was just trying to tie my shoes in the morning and getting dressed.  It was horrible,” says MacDonald.

The pain was in his lower or lumbar spine, the result of injury-related arthritis of the facet joint. When physical therapy didn’t work, he foresaw a painful future.

“I figured I’d just turned 50 and I’m in for it,” says MacDonald.

“We tried to exhaust all non-interventional options but it became apparent that his pain was lingering and he was sort of at a plateau.  And I discussed with him the interventional procedure,” says Dr. Christopher Dawson, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician on the medical staff of Lee Memorial Health System.

Called radio frequency ablation, or RFA, doctors essentially burn away the offending nerves.

“I use a cannulated insulated needle, usually a five millimeter period of area of that does heat up. You want that small bit of area that heats up to be very close to the nerve that you’re trying to localize for the actual ablation.  And I burn it at four levels and it’s for 90 seconds,” says Dr. Dawson.

Prior to the procedure, nerves are tested with a pain block to make sure that once disabled, the pain would be diminished by at least 50 percent.  For most people, the ‘hot shot’ kills the problem.

“I won’t see a patient back for anywhere from three to four weeks because it may take that long for them to tell optimal benefit,” says Dr. Dawson.

Mike is back on his feet and back to his favorite past times.

“I was almost in tears, because I didn’t think I’d ever be right again, I didn’t.  I thought it was going to change my whole lifestyle,” says MacDonald.

Most importantly, he’s back to seeing a bright future.