A Winning Strategy

Radiofrequency treatment keeps avid golfer on course.

“The doctors explained that my discs deteriorated as I got older,” Naaman elaborates. “And the nerves in my neck and low back were being pinched by them. That caused the sharp and stabbing pain that I felt for years.”

Photo courtesy of Naaman Clonch.

Naaman Clonch

The pain put a wrinkle in Naaman’s active lifestyle. It especially affected his golf game because golf requires a rotary motion of the spine, which can aggravate the nerves of the facet joints and cause discomfort.

“I like to boat and fish, too, but I experienced severe pain doing those things,” Naaman discloses. “I knew if I didn’t take care of the problems with my back and neck, I’d have to give up those activities altogether because the pain got worse each year.”

Naaman tried physical therapy several times, but the pain returned every time after therapy was over. He also took pain medication, but he didn’t like it. He felt the pills just covered up the symptoms. They didn’t cure the cause of the problem. As his pain worsened, Naaman worried his next step would be surgery, and he really didn’t want that.

“About six months ago, the pain got pretty severe,” Naaman states. “On a scale of one to ten, it sat at an eight on most days. I saw an orthopedic surgeon, and he suggested I try radiofrequency ablation before we did surgery. I found out about Dr. Panchal, who does that procedure. Dr. Panchal’s office is next to a business I frequent, so I went to see him.

“Dr. Panchal explained everything about ablation. He said he could eradicate the nerve endings in the disc area with a special instrument that heats up. Essentially, the instrument cauterizes the nerve endings so they can’t send pain signals to the brain.”

Sunil Panchal, MD, is a board-certified interventional pain specialist. He is president and medical director of National Institute of Pain, which has centers in Lutz and Riverview. Dr. Panchal examined Naaman and agreed that the radiofrequency treatment should be performed before surgery is considered.

“Naaman has a long history of neck and back pain,” Dr. Panchal notes. “Initially, he asked me to focus on his neck pain, and I performed the radiofrequency treatment on the nerves of his cervical facet joints. He later had the same treatment on his lumbar facet joints.”

Predicting Outcomes

Before moving forward with radiofrequency ablation, Dr. Panchal performs a diagnostic nerve block. This injection temporarily impedes the function of the targeted nerves, which relieves pain. There are two primary reasons for employing a nerve block before ablation.

“First, the nerve block confirms the diagnosis that the suspected joints are the ones responsible for the pain,”
Dr. Panchal describes. “If the patient experiences pain relief from the nerve block, we know those joints are involved with their condition.

“Second, nerve blocks give us a predictive value. The amount of pain relief achieved by blocking the nerves to those joints will predict how much relief the patient could receive when we cauterize the same nerves with radiofrequency energy.”

Once the nerves of the affected facet joints are blocked from sending pain signals to the brain, smooth motion in the facet joints returns. That’s what allows an avid golfer and outdoorsman such as Naaman to resume his activities without discomfort.

During radiofrequency ablation, Dr. Panchal eliminates branches of the targeted nerves, but eventually, those branches regrow. Nerve branches mature at different rates in different people, so there’s variability in how long pain relief lasts following treatment.

“Some studies suggest relief lasts from six months to two years,” Dr. Panchal reports. “But with my technique and experience, I’ve had patients experience relief for as long as six to seven years.”

Naaman is among those who have experienced tremendous success from the treatment. He reports receiving one hundred percent relief of his neck and lower back pain and says he’s so much more comfortable that he’s shaved ten strokes off his golf score.

“To be safe, Dr. Panchal can only perform ablation on so many areas at a time,” Naaman says. “In six months, he did four treatments on different areas of my low back and neck, and in those areas, my pain level is now zero. It’s completely gone.

“As a result, I’m playing golf, boating, fishing and doing all of the things I like to do again, and I’m enjoying them more than ever because I have no more pain in my neck or back.”

Absolute Pain Relief

Naaman is thrilled to be golfing without pain. He shares his good fortune with anyone on the golf course he knows is struggling with their golf swing due to back or neck problems.

“Absolutely, no question about it,” he enthuses. “I recommend Dr. Panchal and radiofrequency ablation to everybody I golf with who’s got back or neck pain. Dr. Panchal is good at what he does. He specializes in this and knows exactly what he’s doing. And, the treatment is very effective. I can’t speak for others, but my outcomes are great.

“People who have nerve pain in their back or neck should give this procedure serious consideration. It’s better than taking narcotics and better than getting their spine operated on. And they should definitely check it out with Dr. Panchal at National Institute of Pain.”

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    • National Institute of Pain

      We treat each patient individually, using the latest equipment and various innovative procedures to diagnose pain and determine your care needs. We then assemble the appropriate interdisciplinary team of health care professionals who can best... Read More

    • Sunil J. Panchal, MD

      Sunil J. Panchal, MD, is board certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology in interventional pain medicine. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY, and earned his medical degree from... Read More