Do You Need to Burn Neck Nerves to Help Chronic Pain?

Neck pain caused by an injury or car accident can be life-changing. Just ask Sarah, who sent Dr. Markle a thank you note this week because he was able to use precisely guided orthobiologic injections to get her life back instead of damaging radiofrequency procedures. Let’s dive in to see what happened.

Cervical Radiofrequency: How Killing Important Nerves Has Become the Standard of Care

In car accident-injured patients up until the ’90s, there was no way to treat patients with injured neck joints. This can happen when the torso is pushed forward at a different rate than the head in a read-end car crash. The neck joint surfaces then crash into each other and damage the structures. Animal research has also shown that the local spinal nerves are also likely injured.

About that time, a new treatment was developed called radiofrequency ablation. Other names are RFA, radiofrequency, or RF. This procedure works by placing a needle-like probe near the nerve that transmits pain signals from the damaged joint. This then heats up, killing off the nerve, and stopping the pain until the nerve grows back in 6 to 18 months.

We used this technology through the late ’90s until about five years ago. The good news? It helped patients who couldn’t be easily treated with physical therapy, medications, or alternative medicine. The bad news? These patients had their pain return with a vengeance, and they would get more brittle with time, more and more dependent on having their nerves burned away about once a year.

In addition, it only made sense that they would have more and not less arthritis in these joints. Why? They couldn’t feel them to protect them, so the joints got more and more damaged.

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Is There a Better Way?

We began using platelet-based treatments that delivered healing growth factors to the damaged joints about 10 years ago. This was working so well that about 5 years ago, we gave up RFA altogether. Why? If we could help these joints heal or slow their predictable degeneration, we could help these patients get rid of their dependency on destructive radiofrequency procedures.

Sarah’s Injury

Sarah is a middle-aged woman who had two neck injuries in succession. In the first, she was performing a headstand and one arm gave way, causing her to fall on her head. In another, while backing up her car, she was hit by a car and jerked her neck again. At that point, she was very disabled and even started to lose consciousness as she turned her head.

All medical work-ups were negative, and nobody knew what to do until she saw Dr. Markle. Prior to that, she saw a pain management physician and tried chiropractic, physical therapy, dry needling, and then steroid injections into the facet joints. All of this failed. Any attempt at reducing her muscle tension with treatments like medications or muscle needling actually made things worse.

She presented to Dr. Markle with pain at the back of her head, a burning sensation in the front of the neck, a heavy head, and numbness/tingling down an arm with head turning. She found us through a support group online, and Dr. Markle identified not only multiple damaged neck joints but also loose ligaments and irritated nerves. She had several precise injections under fluoroscopic and ultrasound guidance of our fourth-generation platelet lysate and third-generation platelet-rich plasma into her neck joints and ligaments and around her nerves. This is an e-mail she just sent to Dr. Markle:

“Dr. Markle,
Hi! I wanted to take the time to send you a very big THANK YOU as I approach my 1 year anniversary of Regenexx Treatments!
First of all when I came to you last October 2017, I literally could not bear the weight of my head on my neck.  My neck was so easily fatigued just after 10 minutes of unassisted head holding.  I was at a place in my life where I was living on the couch, recliner or bed simply because my head was “too heavy”.  Cervical Instability took my quality of life away.  I couldn’t enjoy even the simplest of things like going to my son’s ballgames, or dinner out with my family because I constantly needed head support.  I was unable to care for my family and manage my household.  I was pretty much handicapped. 
You said it perfectly when you told me ‘It feels like a bowling ball on a golf tee’. ‘YES!’ I replied.  The long list of other symptoms ranging from ear issues, tingling and numbness in my upper limbs, limited range of motion, muscle spasms, imbalance and dizziness, pressure in my head and pressure in my sinuses, constant popping and clunking in my neck, and so on and so on, have all greatly improved! Many have them have subsided completely!!  I cannot thank you enough for your knowledge, expertise, and treatment! Dr. Markle, you have been an amazing doctor! You have gone above and beyond for me and I will be forever grateful! Your regenerative treatments have given me my life back! I still cannot believe after only 1 year and only 4 treatments I feel so much better! I am active again, I am working again, I am able to have a quality of life again!  
Sincerely and Thank You!
Learn about Regenexx procedures for spine conditions.

Can My Chiropractor, Naturopath, or Acupuncturist Do This with Young Stem Cells?

You’ve likely seen full-page newspaper ads for TV shows claiming to be able to inject young stem cells into your neck or back. Regrettably, these are scams that actually inject dead tissue and charge crazy amounts of money. What’s worse, these are simple muscle injections without guidance, bearing no resemblance to what Dr. Markle did here. To see what Dr. Markle did, see my video below:

The upshot? We left radiofrequency ablation in the dust many years ago because it was a destructive procedure that killed important nerves and solved or healed nothing. In addition, patients became more and more disabled with time and dependent on the therapy. Now we can offer patients the ability to help heal their neck damage without destructive treatments. We’re happy that Sarah chose that direction and are excited to see her back where she wants to be!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

If you have questions or comments about this blog post, please email us at [email protected]

NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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