You go to work, go home and immediately get into bed with a heating pad. You get out of bed to eat dinner, but then you return to bed until it’s time to go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, you do it all over again.
On top of that, you face excruciating pain that keeps you from doing outdoor activities, going out for an evening with friends and sometimes even standing up.
It sounds like a dreadful scenario that probably won’t happen. But in reality, the problem remains all too common.
For 28-year-old Benjamin P, it was a new normal. After numerous back injuries in his early 20’s, Benjamin experienced chronic back pain that kept him from doing anything but struggling to sit in his chair at work or at home in front of the TV.
Yet after more than five years of living in pain, Benjamin tested positive for a rhizotomy—a pain-reducing procedure that burns nerve fibers in the spine to keep them from carrying pain signals to the brain. The procedure worked, and it didn’t just mean living without the suffering. It meant breaking out of the prison of chronic pain for life.
What Is A Rhizotomy?
Facet joints and nerves help to hold your spine together. Back injuries can inflame the joints or nerves to the point of debilitating pain. A facet rhizotomy serves as one way to stop the nerve fibers from sending out pain signals.
When you have a rhizotomy, a doctor inserts a metal conductor into your back where the nerve fibers rest. He or she deadens the nerve fibers with a current, which reduces or stops the pain.
While the procedure is effective, the results don’t last forever. Every patient’s pain and body is different. Benjamin’s had three rhizotomies so far and gets one about every year and a half. He said it takes about a month to schedule, see the doctor, undergo the procedure and recover. But for him, it’s worth the repetitiveness.
“It beats the alternative of walking with a cane and being extremely limited in what I can and can’t do,” he said.
When Normality Changes for Back Pain
Benjamin didn’t always have to deal with back pain. He attended school, went out with friends and led a normal life.
One day, that normality transformed. He was helping one of his friends move a mattress into a loft. While his friend was at the top of the loft, Benjamin was at the bottom, making sure everything was good on the back end.
In a moment, his friend lost his grip, and, as the mattress fell, Benjamin instinctively tried to catch it. His back bent backward all of the way to the ground as the queen-size, memory foam mattress crashed on top of him. As Benjamin rolled out from under the mattress, he knew something was wrong.
“I knew immediately I had messed my back up,” he said. “I didn’t know I had messed it up so badly and [that] it would change my life and the course of my life.”
And that was just the first strike.
Chronic Pain, Worsened
Benjamin had finished physical therapy to treat his back and moved on, working at a restaurant while attending college. After closing the restaurant one night, Benjamin was carrying a food container and slipped on water. The twisting motion he made as he tried to catch himself hurt his back even more. That’s when he began lying around the house, trying not to make the pain worse.
“I often hear people say I wish I could sit around and do nothing,” Benjamin said. “You only wish that until it’s the only option you have.”
When his friends came into town to visit a month later, he decided to stick it out for a night to hang at the bar with them. As Benjamin and his friends were coming out of the bar at closing, a group of drunk men attacked them at random with 2×4’s.
The beating turned a minor back problem into a medical catastrophe. As the boards smashed into his spine, one of the discs ripped open, spilling out fluid. The bulging disc resulted in even more pain and sparked a rough journey to find a seemingly impossible solution.
A Way Out of Back Pain
After moving back home with his parents and using a cane to get around, Benjamin saw multiple specialists who wouldn’t operate on him because of his young age. A lot of people believed he was faking the pain to continue to get pain medication, which was even more discouraging.
After reading about a local doctor who was conducting a study on young adults with lower back injuries, Benjamin went to see him.
He explained his story, and the doctor agreed he was a perfect candidate. The doctor ended up replacing Benjamin’s bulging disc. He was told he would get better, but after waiting for three and half years, he stopped physical therapy, an activity that actually made his pain worse.
Suddenly, his doctor had a revelation. He suggested Benjamin may be suffering from facet disease and should get tested for a rhizotomy. When the doctor inserted lidocaine into the problem-causing nerve as a test, the results were positive.
“It was the greatest change in my life I had experienced since messing my back up,” he said.
Rhizotomy is Successful
The rhizotomy worked.
Benjamin said he considers the procedure to be pretty simple. You go in an hour early to fill out the paperwork, take medication to calm down, undergo the procedure and rest for 45 minutes to an hour afterward. Other than your participation, Benjamin said, all you need is a driver to get home.
It’s usually a two-part process to zap both sides of your spine. For Benjamin, the doctor will work on the right-side nerves one week. The next week, he’ll work on the left side. The nerves on the right, or what Benjamin calls his “good side,” takes about a week to recover from. The recovery for the left side is about a week and a half.
Pain Relief Center in Plano, TX for Chronic Back Pain
While the process may be a bit drawn out and repetitive, Benjamin doesn’t consider it a sacrifice.
“I’ll probably never climb again,” Benjamin said. “I’ll certainly never surf again because I don’t have balance anymore. But I can wake up every day, go to work, get off work and not be in agonizing pain.”
Sometimes patients will hesitate to test for a rhizotomy because of worries about finances or the procedure’s failure to work. At one point, Benjamin said he didn’t even have health insurance. But the freedom the rhizotomy has given him makes it worth to pay out of pocket if you have to.
“There shouldn’t be anything that stands in the way of people getting this test done,” Benjamin said. “Even if it’s just the test portion.”