According to a study done by Mayo Clinic, back pain is the third most common reason people visit the doctor. Fortunately, in recent years, major advancements have been made when it comes to diagnosing and treating back pain. An exciting subspecialty known as interventional spine medicine uses innovative techniques to help patients function and feel better.
Understanding Interventional Spine Medicine
Interventional spine medicine utilizes minimally invasive procedures and special imaging technology to not only pinpoint the location of the pain, but treat it right it at its source. In many cases, this allows the patient to go a more conservative route and avoid surgery altogether.
In some circumstances, however, surgery cannot be avoided. Traditionally, spine surgery was done as “open surgery,” meaning a long incision was required. With interventional spine medicine, surgery can be performed using a much smaller incision, causing less damage to the surrounding muscles and ligaments. This can often be done on an outpatient basis. The benefits of this type of surgery include:
- Less pain
- Faster recovery
- Less risk of infection
- Less risk of complication
- Less blood loss
- Less reliance on post-operative pain medication
Specialists who work in interventional spine medicine generally take a holistic approach to patient care. Each patient undergoes a thorough evaluation to allow the specialist to come up with a personalized treatment plan. The goal is to improve the patient’s overall well-being by working synergistically with other medical disciplines. For example, alleviating a patient’s back pain with an injection may allow for participation in physical therapy, which will continue to further strengthen the back and spine. Or meeting with a psychologist to address how a patient’s chronic pain has had a significant emotional impact can help heal via the mind-body connection.
Common Interventional Spine Medicine Procedures
There are a number of both surgical and non-surgical options that fall under the umbrella of interventional spine medicine. When it comes to treating conditions like herniated discs, sciatica, and lumbar stenosis, some commonly used procedures include:
- Injections: With the help of advanced imaging technologies, such as fluoroscopy, injections with a numbing medication and anti-inflammatory corticosteroid can be administered into specific places in the spine, such as the epidural space or the facet joints. Sometimes the injections are diagnostic, meaning that if pain relief occurs immediately after the injection, it can be inferred that the injection site is the source of the pain. Other times, injections are used for treatment of pain. When the longer-lasting corticosteroid medicine is precisely delivered to the right location, the patient can experience months of pain relief.
- Radiofrequency neurotomy: X-ray guidance is used to direct a special needle to a specific location in the spine. Radiofrequency and heat are delivered to the nerves in that area, essentially disabling them from transmitting pain signals for an extended period of time.
- Discectomy: This procedure removes all or part of a bulging or herniated disc. Doing so relieves pressure on the affected nerve and relieves pain. With interventional medicine, this procedure can be performed using very small incisions and special tools to operate in a very precise area.
Finding an Interventional Spine Medicine Specialist
If you’d like to learn more about whether interventional spine medicine is right for you, start by doing some research. Although there are many great doctors out there, if you are looking for a reputable specialist, keep in mind the following factors:
- Is the physician fellowship-trained or board-certified?
- Does the physician collaborate with a team across all stages of patient care?
- Does the physician utilize noninvasive and minimally invasive techniques?
- Does the facility have new and advanced medical equipment?
- Does the surgery center have a low infection rate?
- Does the physician have experience treating your condition?
- Are previous patients happy with their overall experience?
Once you find a specialist who meets your criteria, schedule a consultation. This may be the first step toward finding the lasting relief you are seeking.
About the author
Richard Kim, M.D. Born and raised in Southern California, Dr. Richard Kim earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from University of California, Riverside. This followed with a Master of Science in biochemistry and neurophysiology. He then earned his medical degree from St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri, graduating Magna Cum Laude. Read more articles by Richard Kim, M.D..