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Weekend Doctor: Winter pain management

By Andrius Giedraitis, MD
Blanchard Valley Pain Management

We are all well-accustomed to the trials of Ohio winters–cold mornings, snowy roads and early sunsets. Another common aspect of these winters is the propensity to develop exacerbations of chronic pain ailments. Knees and hips become achier, walking becomes more difficult and sleep becomes less restful. Many of these issues are a reflection of the colder temperatures and changes in barometric pressure, which can affect your neck, low back, shoulders, hips and knees. 

Sometimes resting at home and applying a heating pad to the painful area can bring enough relief; at other times, over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol or ibuprofen, are needed to help alleviate these symptoms. Physical therapy, stretching and home exercises can also often improve one’s overall well-being and functionality. 

Unfortunately, these aches and pains can often become more significant, and heat, over-the-counter medications and home stretches do not provide lasting relief. However, this does not suggest that one must needlessly suffer. There are multiple common, non-surgical interventions that can provide substantial relief when these more conservative measures fail to bring about comfort.

One such common intervention is radiofrequency ablation, often described as a “nerve burn.” Multiple areas of the body, including the neck, shoulders, mid back, low back, hips and knees, are affected by tiny nerve endings that get irritated and inflamed for one reason or another. This irritation causes pain throughout these different areas. However, these nerve endings are different from the nerves that are responsible for movement or feeling in the back or extremities. Because these nerve endings are not in control of these functions, these nerves are safe to be “burnt.” This ablation, or nerve burn, interrupts the nerve endings that cause pain, which then can lead to long-standing relief.

This procedure is performed under a live X-ray by an interventional pain specialist, and this X-ray allows for the very precise application of this burning. The procedure typically takes about 15 minutes to complete. Patients will often receive a light amount of sedation to help them stay still during the procedure, and there is no prolonged hospital stay required. There are no incisions involved with this procedure, as the ablation is completed with very small needles. The vast majority of patients are back to work the following day, though the ultimate relief may take a few weeks to take effect.

While the winter months may bring about increasing aches and pains, patients should be aware that there are multiple treatments that can provide relief when home remedies no longer help. The tools utilized for pain relief, such as radiofrequency ablations, are plentiful, and these tools are safe, effective and covered by most insurance plans. Don’t let the Ohio winters get the best of you!

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