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Popular new treatment relieves chronic pain

May 13, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Dealing with chronic pain is difficult, especially for those who don't want to take a lot of medications. One treatment that's gaining popularity is pulsed radio frequency. For many patients, it's just the kind of relief they've been looking for. Zelda Rockman knows all about pain. Deteriorating disks left her neck, shoulders and one arm in constant pain.

"Everything hurt. I mean, everything made me hurt," Rockman said. "I had reached the point where my daily life was being restricted."

After medication, massage and physical therapy failed, she sought relief in Dr. Scott Berger, a pain management specialist.

"Pain essentially envelops a patient's complete living circumstances," Berger said.

Berger gives many patients relief with pulsed radio frequency, which targets the nerves.

"They are essentially rendered short-circuited to transmitting painful impulses," Berger said.

During the treatment, doctors insert a needle near the problem nerve. An electric current then heats the nerve. It's a newer version of standard radio frequency, which destroys the nerve, but unlike the old treatment, pulsed radio frequency simply shocks the nerve.

"It does not produce significant enough heat to destroy any tissues in the body," Berger said.

Complications are rare, but there is a chance the surgeon could damage blood vessels or other nerves. Infection is also a risk.

The procedure takes about five minutes, and relief is often felt within two to three weeks. For Zelda, the relief was even quicker.

"I was almost completely free immediately after," she said. Now, she says, she's back to her old pain-free self.

"I just don't think about my body the way I had to consider it previously."

Berger says the treatment is not painful because patients are numbed. The treatment works well on sciatica, herniated disks, pain caused by enlarged joints and shingles.

The nerves usually remain blocked for six to nine months.


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