“We fight gravity our entire lives,” said Dr. Dungarani, who received his specialty training in pain management at Emory University in Atlanta.
Eighty five percent of Dr. Dungarani’s patients experience spinal related pain.
Spinal discs, particularly in the cervical and lumbar regions, serve as our shock absorbers, but are also particularly prone to arthritis, regardless of the patient’s age.
“This sort of pain can happen even with kids in their late teens,” said the physician. “Children are into so many sports around the year that by the time they hit their late teens, they may have developed this type of pain.”
Other causes for chronic pain can include osteoporosis, shingles, surgical procedures and myofacial pain.
Dr. Dungarani’s goal is to get the patients pain-free and moving again. “We focus on interventional pain management,” he said. “They goal is to restore functionality.”
Patients seek pain management in order to avoid surgery and to wean themselves from medications such as pain-numbing opiates, which can cause constipation, confusion and a drop in testosterone levels in men. Even over-the-counter ibuprofen can upset the stomach and affect the kidneys.
“I ask patients to describe their pain without using the words “hurt” or “pain,” said Dr. Dungarani.
“If they use words such as “dull,” “electrical” and “throbbing,” that helps clue me. You have to tease out of them what they’re complaining about.”
Although the patients may be suffering from a herniated or ruptured disc, the pain may actually originate in the facet joints of the backbone.
For some patients, radiofrequency ablation, which zaps nerves to sleep, can be heaven sent. A combination of electricity and heat, radiofrequency ablation is a 30-minute outpatient procedure that requires no down time. Relief lasts from six months to a year.
After the pain is controlled, Dungarani typically refers patients to physical therapy.
For Dr. Dungarani, a key professional and personal benefit of his job is the satisfaction he receives hearing from pain-free patients.
“Chronic pain patients can have depression and anxiety,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to help them.”