Do You Need to Burn Neck Nerves to Help Chronic Pain?
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.
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 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:
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!