Pain in the neck? East Falls Sports and Spine provides non-surgical relief

Bothersome neck pain not only irritates and annoys but can greatly interfere with daily life. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to alleviate and strengthen the neck – and go-to treatments focus on less risk, less recovery time and less discomfort than surgery.

“People often don’t understand the options out there for people who have neck pain. We have a lot of tools in our tool bag to help people get better, and most get better without surgery,” said Dr. Troy Bushman, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at East Falls Sport and Spine.

Neck pain can develop slowly from degenerative conditions or suddenly, like from whiplash in a car accident. Since a wide spectrum of neck problems exist, experts utilize a wide spectrum of solutions; but Dr. Bushman says he prefers to start with the most conservative methods, if possible.

“Even if you’ve been in pain for a while, we’ll exhaust less invasive, less risky options first, if possible. There’s a lot we can do right here in East Falls Sport and Spine to offer relief,” Dr. Bushman said.

There are three less-invasive techniques that Dr. Bushman provides to alleviate neck pain:

  1. Cervical steroid injections. Herniated discs in the neck can cause debilitating, radiating pain down the back and/or arms. To treat the discomfort, Dr Bushman can deliver cervical steroid injections at the site of pain using X-ray guidance.

    “Most people hear the word epidural and only think about giving birth, but the word actually describes the physical space where the treatment is going in the spine,” Dr. Bushman explained. “We inject an anti-inflammatory steroid in that epidural space, which is between layers of tissue that cover the spinal cord. The injection calms pain and inflammation, providing time for the body to heal.”

    Generally, the vast majority of people with herniated discs in the lower back or neck can heal on their own over time. With steroid injections, that healing period doesn’t need to be painful.

    “Often a person will receive steroid injections on two or three occasions to alleviate the pain while the body takes care of the slipped disc. The technique calms inflammation and pain so that individuals can start feeling better sooner,” Dr. Bushman said.

    To boost the pain relief process, Dr. Bushman also pairs the injections with physical therapy and oral medications as needed.

  2. Radiofrequency ablation (RFA). Most often used to treat arthritis in the neck, radiofrequency ablation relieves pain by stopping pain signals to the brain.

    “We have no cure for arthritis, and arthritis in the neck can be extremely painful; but we can cauterize the nerve endings to stop that pain,” Dr. Bushman said. “For patients, this treatment can be lifechanging.”

    Performed in an injection suite, Dr Bushman uses X-ray guidance for precise accuracy as they access the tiny nerves in the neck that don’t control muscles but carry pain signals to the brain. Then, using electromagnetic current, Dr Bushman uses a heated needle to disenable the nerve from carrying that pain signal.

  3. Trigger point injections. For people suffering from whiplash or pain that stems from neck muscles, trigger point injections soothe constricted muscles and relax stubborn knots.

    “Though we don’t consider this a stand-alone treatment, trigger point injections can help painful and tight muscles and is primary used in conjunction with physical therapy,” Dr. Bushman said.

For all three non-surgical pain-relieving techniques, Dr. Bushman recommends physical therapy to bolster and preserve the healing process.

“Ninety nine percent of the time I recommend physical therapy because, for all of us, certain muscles are weak. Physical therapy gets patients in proper position and alignment, and it teaches patients exercises they can do at home, indefinitely to ensure stronger muscles that will help maintain their neck health,” Dr. Bushman said.