Oh, what a relief: Couple finds injections help back pain

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Sweet relief: Dr. Howard Robinson (from left), a physiatrist and pain management specialist at Ingalls Memorial Hospital, has helped Frances and Dominick Mazza, of Tinley Park, get back pain relief and live a more active life. | Supplied photo

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Most of us have groaned, “Oh my aching back,” at one time or another.

If you haven’t, you’re definitely in the minority.

Back pain is one of the most frequent medical complaints in the United States, affecting eight out of 10 people at some point in their lives.

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“Back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain,” explains Howard Robinson, M.D., board-certified physiatrist and pain management specialist on staff at Ingalls Memorial Hospital. “Acute back pain comes on suddenly and usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Back pain is called ‘chronic’ if it lasts for more than three months.”

While most back pain goes away on its own, it may take awhile. Over-the-counter pain relievers and resting can help.

But when back pain persists and starts interfering with how you live your life, it’s time to see a specialist.

That’s exactly what Dominick and Frances Mazza of Tinley Park did when spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the open spaces in the spine) limited their everyday activities.

For the last 10 years, the Mazzas have received pain injections from Dr. Robinson at his Harvey office. In most cases, a patient can resume full activities the next day, and pain relief lasts for months.

The particular method of receiving the injections have made all the difference for the Mazzas this past decade and they thank Dr. Robinson for giving them a chance to live life fully again.

“Dr. Robinson is a very caring person,” said Dominick, an avid golfer. “Since I’ve been seeing him, I haven’t been in a wheelchair. I highly recommend him. He’s done wonders for my wife and me.”

Frances receives facet joint injections twice a year to treat her source of back pain, and Dominick receives epidural steroid injections.

‘I thank God for him.’

“My pain is straight across the back,” Frances, 77, explains. “And then it goes down my right leg. If it weren’t for the injections, I’d be in a wheelchair.”

And for a doting mother and grandmother, that’s out of the question.

“My children and grandchildren are my life,” she adds. “I never turn them down for babysitting.”

The twice-a-year injections also allow Frances to cook, clean and perform housework without pain.

During a facet joint injection, a combination of a numbing anesthetic and an anti-inflammatory steroid medication is delivered to the joint through a thin needle. Depending on the location of the pain, one or more injections may be administered.

Back or neck pain disappears almost immediately after a successful pain block. However, once the numbing effect of the anesthetic wears off, pain may return temporarily. It may take up to 10 days for the steroid medication to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Pain relief usually lasts several months.

“Dr. Robinson gets me through,” she adds. “I thank God for him.”

X-ray marks the spot

Dominick, 80, echoes Frances’ sentiments.

The retired steelworker and welder struggled with back pain for years, caused by arthritis and spinal stenosis. When the pain got really bad, it affected Dominick’s right leg.

“I was starting to drag my leg,” he said. “I was crippled up.”

After seeing a pain specialist at another hospital, Dominick was referred to Dr. Robinson, and it has made all the difference in the world.

“The other doctor gave me an epidural but didn’t use X-ray to find the exact location in my spine,” he explained. “He would find the spot with his hands, but that didn’t always work. Dr. Robinson always uses X-ray, and the difference is unbelievable.”

During a lumbar epidural spinal injection, the patient lays face down, with a cushion under the stomach area to provide comfort and flex the back. In this position, the spine opens and allows for easier access to the epidural space. A local anesthetic is used to numb the skin, and fluoroscopy (X-ray) assists the physician in locating the appropriate vertebra and nerve root causing the pain.

“The goal is to inject the medication as close to the pain site as possible,” Dr. Robinson said. “Studies have shown that the use of X-ray to guide the needle into the epidural space is more effective than without.”

The procedure usually takes 15-30 minutes and is followed by a brief recovery period.

More information on back pain specialists at the Advanced Orthopedic Institute at Ingalls is at (708) 915 PAIN (7246).

Provided by Ingalls Health System