Radiofrequency treatment 'pulsing' pain away

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by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on May 12, 2010 at 5:40 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 12 at 6:09 PM

With all the controversy over prescription pain medications and proposals to restrict them, many doctors and their patients are left wondering how best to treat chronic pain.

One newer option is pulsed radio frequency which was pioneered by a University of Washington doctor and is now gaining acceptance around the country.

Zelda Rockman knows all about pain.

"Everything hurt. I mean, everything made me hurt," she said.

Deteriorating discs left her neck, shoulders and one arm in constant pain.

"I had reached the point where my daily life was being restricted," she said.

After medication, massage and physical therapy failed, she met Doctor Scott Berger, a pain management specialist.

"Pain essentially envelopes a person's complete living circumstances," said Berger.

Many patients finally get relief with pulsed radio frequency. It targets the nerves.

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

During the treatment, doctors insert a needle near the problem nerve and send an electric current through it. Unlike standard radio frequency, which destroys the nerve, pulsed radio frequency simply shocks the nerve.

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

Complications are rare, but there is a chance of damaging 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, it worked right away.

"I was almost completely free immediately after," said Zelda.

Now, 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," she said.

The nerves usually remain blocked for six to nine months. The treatment is covered by most insurance and is only used after other options have failed.

Dr. Alex Cahana of the University of Washington is considered the father of pulsed radio frequency for pain control. It's available at the UW Medical Center for pain relief at the Roosevelt Clinic, as well as other local clinics.

For more information, click on the following:

UW Medicine Center for Pain Relief at UWMC-Roosevelt: uwmedicine.washington.edu

WISA: About Spine Pain: www.spineinjections.org

Washington Center for Pain Management: www.washingtonpain.com

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