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The Role of Radiofrequency Ablations in Spinal Injuries

The spine is probably the most commonly injured body part in accidents of all kinds.  As St. Augustine car accident attorneys, we see the result of spinal injuries far too often.  Spinal pain can be disabling and can be caused by injuries to intervertebral discs, ligaments and facet joints. Thankfully, medical practitioners have a host of alternatives that can help alleviate this pain.

Treating conservatively at first, people with neck or back pain are typically sent to physical therapy.  If physical therapy is not successful, the doctors may try medications to reduce inflammation or to decrease pain.

When a patient has unrelenting spinal pain, or if they have pain, numbness or tingling radiating into an extremity, doctors will often order magnetic resonance imaging, commonly referred to as an “MRI.”  MRIs are helpful in that they show the shape of the intervertebral discs, while x-rays do not.  MRIs can reveal a person suffered injury including bulging and herniated discs.

Patients with painful disc injuries are often referred to pain management physicians who commonly perform epidural steroid injections as a first effort.  If the disc itself is causing pain or pushing on the spinal cord or a nerve root, epidurals can be helpful.  However, more often than not, with our accident clients we see little long term symptom relief with epidurals.  If the doctor still suspects the injured disc to be the source of pain, the patient is typically then referred to a surgeon.

However, often we find that the facet joints are the source of the pain.  Facet joints are tiny joints where the vertebral spinous processes (the wing shaped extension of bone on the back side of each vertebra) connect with the vertebrae above and below.  Pain management doctors inject pain medication into the facet joints to determine if the joint is causing the pain.

Next, a medial branch block can be performed.  This is a diagnostic procedure during which short lived anesthetic is used to determine whether the nerves injected were causing the patient’s pain.  If they provide relief, medial branch blocks only last a matter of hours.  However, once the nerves that are generating pain have been identified, radio frequency ablations can then be used to deaden the offending nerve.

Using heat generated by radiofrequency waves, RFAs are used to sever the pain generating nerves.  The beneficial effects usually take several days to take effect.  Eventually, the nerve will regenerate and pain will return. This process usually takes about 6 to 8 months as the patient reports the gradual return of pain.

Cost is a significant factor to be mindful of when handling a personal injury claim involving RFAs.  Since the procedures cost several thousand dollars and must be repeated every 6 to 8 months, the expense of future RFAs can be astronomical. For example, we recently had a life care plan performed to determine the future medical expenses for our 45 year old client whose neck was injured in a rear end collision. RFAs almost completely eliminated his pain for months at a time and allowed him to return to normal life.  This helped to prove the honesty of the client as a person who is exaggerating would not report the near resolution of pain.  The life care plan revealed that the client will incur more than $300,000.00 for this future medical care.  This evidence was presented at mediation and the case resolved for over 10 times the amount previously offered by the insurer.

Our St. Augustine Car Accident attorneys have handled personal injury claims for more than 25 years.  Understanding the anatomy of the spine and the potential sources of pain is necessary in order to be able to demonstrate that a client’s injuries are real. If you have a spinal injury caused by the neglect of someone else, please contact us to discuss your treatment status and options.  Often, we can help a client dramatically reduce his or her pain by recommending a specialist to address any areas in their treatment that have not been considered.

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