Is Technology Wrecking Our Spines?

Technology now influences every aspect of our lives, determining who we talk to, what we watch, and even how we work. We all love using our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and smartwatches, but the technology with which we’ve grown so familiar with could be a major cause of back pain, neck pain and spine joint irritation in America. Facet arthritis of the neck and lower back is incredibly common in the U.S. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), on average, 80 percent of Americans will have an episode of low back pain at some point in their lifetime.

“I see cases of neck and back arthritis five days a week,” said Interventional Pain Management Specialist, Christopher A. Dawson, of TPMG Interventional Pain Treatment Center in Newport News. For many of us, encountering a case of back or neck pain is merely a matter of time. Despite its prevalence, there are effective ways to treat spine arthritis and facet irritation to avoid pain.

Spine Arthritis is a condition that occurs when the facet joints (the connections between each bone in the spine) in the neck and back become inflamed and irritated due to wear and tear, heavy labor, or cumulative trauma. In facet joint arthritis, the cartilage on the ends of the bones wears off and then the bones rub together producing pain. The condition is usually accompanied by pain or stiffness in the back or neck.
There are different causes of spine arthritis and facet joint irritation. Those who have jobs involving high-impact physical activity like soldiers in the military have a greater risk of developing spine arthritis.

Additionally, those over the age of 40 consistently show radiographic evidence of spine arthritis. Violent whiplash from car accidents often causes irritated facet joints and as a result chronic neck pain that refers to the upper back or shoulder blade. More recently, technological gadgetry is another factor leading to facet joint irritation.

Our technology has a large impact on our ergonomics. Our gadgets determine the way we sit at our desks, our posture while we’re in line at the store, and even how we relax on the couch at home. All of these factors affect the wear and tear of the facet joints in our spine over time. If you think about it, gadgets like smartphones and laptops have only been around for 20 or 30 years. Evolutionarily, the introduction of technology like this has rapidly changed the way human beings use the spine. This sudden change in posture might be another contributing factor to the increase in back pain, neck pain and spine arthritis in America.

The good news is that spine arthritis is treatable. Once your provider determines you have the condition through history, physical examination and xrays, treatment for arthritis of the spine usually begins with a conservative modality including physical therapy, activity modification, chiropractic care, or even reduction in body weight. Once patients have explored conservative treatments, if they still have symptoms, injection therapy can be considered.

“Injection therapy can eliminate the need for pain medicine so you can return to work and play as well as sleep better,” said Dr. Dawson.

The injection therapy of choice for those with spine arthritis is Radiofrequency Ablation, a minimally invasive procedure performed in-office involving ablation (using an electric current to heat up a small area of nerves to stop them from sending pain signals) of the nerve that supplies the irritated facet joint. This removes the nerve supply to the facet joint and blocks pain signals to the brain.

“We adopted this treatment [radiofrequency ablation] from cardiologists who have used it for about 40 years, treating the heart with ablation and doing it safely,” said Dr. Dawson. Think of the procedure as unplugging a lamp. While a lamp is unplugged, the lightbulb can’t turn on. While the nerves are “unplugged” they can’t send information to the brain. This procedure effectively reduces pain for years, giving patients advanced function, improved sleep, and a decreased need for pain medication.

Your spine pain and dysfunction will tell you when to call your local pain management doctor. Those who experience a decrease in function, interrupted sleep due to pain or discomfort, or persistent need for pain medication should consider talking to a pain management specialist about interventional treatment. Don’t let chronic pain affect your ability to enjoy life. Talk to Dr. Dawson today about treatment and find relief from your neck and back pain.

Dr. Dawson

About Christopher A. Dawson, MD

Christopher A. Dawson, MD of TPMG Interventional Pain Treatment Center in Newport News believes pain relief is within reach without the use of opioids. Using state-of-the-art technology, Dr. Dawson enhances function and decreases the need for pain medication through interventional procedures offering minimally invasive, non-surgical spine procedures for treatment of back pain, neck pain and sciatica. Patients can expect an enhanced function, no downtime, and no restrictions after their procedure.

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