Years working as a heavy equipment mechanic began to take a toll on Browns Valley resident Chris Hull. In 2007, the 41-year-old began experiencing low back and left leg pain. Chris initially controlled the pain with increasingly stronger doses of pain medication, which enabled him to continue working. Over time, however, Chris' pain worsened, impacting his ability to perform work-related duties and preventing him from pursuing his favorite activities – game hunting and fishing.
As Chris' back pain worsened, he searched for a doctor who could diagnose and treat his condition. After years of visiting several different health care providers, however, Chris continued to have persistent and worsening pain. No one had been able to accurately diagnose his condition.
"I was pretty down and out about my pain when none of the doctors I'd seen could figure out what was wrong," says Chris. "It was frustrating because I'm a mechanic, so when something is broken, I fix it. I just wanted to be fixed."
In 2012, Chris sought care at Sutter Medical Foundation and Sutter North Medical Group. Now unable to work, Chris explained his chronic back pain to his new primary care physician, who quickly saw that he needed a referral to pain management. Chris met with Peter Bravos, M.D., a board-certified anesthesiologist specializing in pain management. Dr. Bravos listened to Chris' concerns, reviewed his imaging and did a thorough physical exam to determine an appropriate course of action. Dr. Bravos immediately knew what was wrong.
"He told me I had sacroiliac joint dysfunction and arthritis in my low back, as well as degenerative disc disease in my neck," he said.
With a diagnosis in hand, Dr. Bravos developed a treatment plan for Chris. Initially, he treated Chris' pain with radiofrequency ablation (RFA). This minimally invasive procedure utilizes high frequency radio waves through insulated needles, producing heat over specific nerves, disrupting the pain signals to the brain and decreasing pain. RFA typically will relieve pain for a year and can be repeated if the pain returns.
Dr. Bravos performed the first of several RFA procedures to the facet joints located in Chris' neck and low back, which provided significant pain relief. After administering some mild sedation and local anesthetic to Chris, Dr. Bravos utilized X-ray guidance to direct a special needle alongside the nerves his back to be treated. He then completed testing on each nerve to assure proper positioning. To minimize discomfort during the RFA process, Dr. Bravos administered local anesthetic over the targeted nerves.
RFA is an outpatient procedure, so Chris was able to go home the same day. Some discomfort after the procedure is not uncommon – usually similar to the feeling of a deep sunburn. It typically resolves after a period of time.
"When I first saw Dr. Bravos a few years ago, I couldn't walk 200 yards. Now, I'm back at work and I can hunt and fish again," says Chris. He adds that he now works in the office of his company, running the shop, but he still does some work as a heavy equipment mechanic, thanks to Dr. Bravos' care. In fact, Chris has been so happy with his care that he has referred his mom and several friends to Dr. Bravos. "He and his staff treat me like family," he said. "I'd still be off work today if Dr. Bravos hadn't diagnosed and treated my back pain."