Pati Simon of Napa said she has finally found some relief to her decades-long low back pain with a new treatment that uses radiofrequency waves to calm the nerves around the vertebrae in her low back.
Simon first received the treatment, called SInergy Cooled Radiofrequency System, from a physician in Marin two years ago and said she has since experienced significant relief from pain after many years of suffering and a failed back fusion surgery.
“Believe me, I’m very persistent and I scoured for solutions that would bring me relief,” said Simon, a 69-year-old retired court reporter. “After receiving the cooled RF treatment, the sharp electric pains and the general back pain are much less significant.
"I’ve also been able to wean myself off of the oxycodone," Simon said.
The system, manufactured by Kimberly-Clark Healthcare, is available from a number of California physicians -- including Dr. Holly Kelly of Marin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Simon's doctor.
The RF system specifically addresses back pain that emanates from the sacroiliac or SI joint -- the joint that connects the tailbone to the pelvis, or hipbone. For a detailed explanation, click here.
According to the Kimberly-Clark website:
“… Radiofrequency denervation of the L4 and L5 primary dorsal rami and S1-S3 lateral branches may provide significant pain relief and functional improvement in carefully selected patients with suspected sacroiliac joint pain.”
- Cohen, S. Anesthesiology, 2008
Simon's story started at age 40, when she was told by her orthopedist that the chronic low back pain she was experiencing was just arthritis and a normal progression of aging.
The pain was persistent, but so was Simon, and she sought out a second opinion from a physician at Stanford University Medical Center who diagnosed her with a degenerative disc condition, stenosis and spondylolisthesis, a defect of the vertebra.
To help with the pain. the physician recommended Simon receive epidural (steroid) injections, however she never fully experienced relief.
After two years of injections, her physician recommended a spinal fusion. The fusion took place in September 2002. Much to Simon's dismay, the low back pain was still present.
“It felt like that part of my back was always hot,” Simon said. “The pain would radiate down my right side, through the buttocks and down my leg, usually stopping at my knee, but sometimes would reach my foot.
"It was a really sharp pain that often would happen sporadically during the day and wake me in the middle of the night,” she said.
To help cope with the pain, Simon begin to take medications including vicodin and oxycodone, which provided some relief, but they never fully eliminated the pain.
In addition to the epidurals and oral medication, Simon also tried everything from physical therapy and nerve stimulation to ice and exercise.
“It would hurt to walk,” Simon said. “You get to a point where you’ll do just about anything to get through the day.”
In 2009, Simon’s physician, Dr. Marko Bodor, had attended a medical conference where he met the Marin physician, Dr. Holly Kelly. Kelly spoke with him about treating patients suffering from low back pain like Simon’s with the SInergy Cooled Radiofrequency System.
Kelly told Bodor that the Cooled RF system is a minimally-invasive, non-pharmacological treatment option for those suffering from sacroiliac joint pain.
Bodor suggested that Simon try Cooled RF. She received her first treatment with Kelly in May 2010.
“In my experience, Cooled RF provides prolonged and higher quality relief of SI joint pain as compared to other radiofrequency treatments and traditional methods such as injections because it addresses pain by treating the nerve,” said Kelly.
"The average patient experiences pain relief for up to 20 months, making it a long-term solution to a devastating problem," she said.
Coincidentally, Simon's story comes as new research was released earlier this month on epidural steroid injections -- the traditional and highly popular non-surgical treatment for back pain.
As mentioned earlier, the injections do help some people, but they do not offer relief for everyone -- including Simon.
According to a newly released study at Johns Hopkins University, the steroids -- which can cause other problems such as high blood sugar -- maybe aren't even an important component in the injections.
Researchers suggest that simply surrounding the vertebrae with fluid and painkillers might be enough.
To read the study, click here.