PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- For years, opioids have been a common prescription for back pain, but for many patients, it was the gateway to addiction and illicit drugs, like heroin.
There are, however, several alternatives now for the millions of people who suffer from back pain, and they don't include medication or surgery.
"Burning, stabbing, especially on my left side," said Edith Sneed-Young, describing her pain. "It would start in my back, all the way down the back of my leg, and shoot out the back of my foot."
For an entire decade, Sneed-Young says she just put up with her back pain caused by disc degeneration, arthritis, and sciatica. She retired from a career in law enforcement, so prescription pain meds were not an option.
"My experience is that it would go from being medicated for a medical issue, then progressing to heroin," said Sneed-Young. "It devastates families. I've seen that."
Dr. Minesh Zavari offered Sneed-Young an alternative: radiofrequency ablation.
"I use the needle go right where anatomically where you expect that nerve to go," said Dr. Zavari
It's not a cure, but a long-term way to manage the pain without surgery or opioids. During the 15-minute procedure, needles cauterize the tip of the nerves in the spine.
"We take a needle, we heat up the end of the needle. Basically alleviates the signal to the brain that's causing the pain. No incisions. Down time possibly a week," said Dr. Zavari.
It lasts for two to three years, before patients have to undergo the procedure again.
"It's improved the quality of my life," said Sneed-Young. "My husband and I like to travel, so it makes it easier to go on tours."
Sneed-Young says she even goes dancing with her friends, which is something she couldn't do for years.
"I have a lot of patients come here who haven't been able to golf," said Dr. Zavari. "They come here, get the procedure done, and they're back to their normal game."
Another alternative for chronic pain sufferers is spinal decompression therapy.
"This is going is pull for a minute and relax for another minute," said Dr. Tom Blankenbaker. "It's a 30-minute treatment."
The procedure can be done lying down. Connie Collins suffered from a bulging disc and a herniated disc from cumulative trauma over the years. Last month, she suddenly threw her back out.
"I was lifting a case of water. Did it many times," said Collins. "That time was the last straw. The straw that broke the camels back."
She's been doing this therapy for four weeks, and her pain has gone.
"10+, if you can pick that," said Collins. "And now, zero."
The machine gently tugs and pulls the spine, and over time, it heals the spine back to health.
"It's kind of like a big old hug," said Collins. "You do feel the table separating, which is kind of strange, but you get used to it. You can feel it in the back. I can feel it on the disc. It doesn't hurt, but you can feel it's doing something."
MRIs show in many patients, the cause of the pain is cured in as many as 20 treatments.
"The disc is black and round, and you can see where the black disc smashed the spinal cord," said Dr. Blankenbaker. "The disc material is absorbed back into the disc. Patient healed. No drugs, no surgery."
Collins pays for healthcare out of her own pocket, and she was certain she'd have to get surgery. She was pleasantly shocked that the cost of the alternative treatment; $75 per treatment.
"It's cheaper than surgery," said Collins.
Both practitioners encourage people with chronic pain to seek out these treatments first, before going on prescription pain meds or getting surgery. They say surgery should be the very last resort, instead of the first or only choice.
Sonoran Pain Management
Dr. Minesh Zaveri
525 N. 18th St. #304
Phoenix, AZ 85006
Spine & Disc
Dr. Thomas E. Blankenbaker
1727 E. Bell Road
Phoenix, AZ 85022