We’ve all felt it: a twist here, a pull there or a twinge when moving too quickly, too forcefully or too awkwardly. This troubling pinch in the back, shoulder, neck, arm or leg could progress toward a lengthening battle with debilitating pain. That’s when your primary care physician can refer you to Northern Arizona Pain Institutes (NAPI) to get your life back.
Leading pain management efforts at NAPI’s Prescott, Flagstaff and Show Low offices is Robert J. Brownsberger M.D., whose pioneering therapies reintroduce suffering patients to an activity-based lifestyle. Trained in physical medicine and rehabilitation, and board certified in pain medicine, Dr. Brownsberger realized during his medical residency 37 years ago that his professional talents would best serve patients besieged by chronic pain.
“Patients who first arrive at my office often feel trapped,” said Dr. Brownsberger. “They cannot take on usual physical activities which they had previously enjoyed. We are able to manage a wide range of pain conditions to get them back to doing what they love. By evaluating and treating all levels of pain in a comprehensive, compassionate and professional way, we can get patients on the road to fewer and less severe incidents of discomfort.”
The disease of chronic pain is poorly understood by just about everyone and neglected by the medical community, Brownsberger said, so he pursued the specialty. During a rotation in pain management with medical residency at the University of Washington, he found his niche.
He earned his medical degree from University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in 1981. In return for a scholarship, he served as a U.S. Navy flight surgeon stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps’ helicopter squadron. Of that time as primary care physician to pilots, he said, “I have great admiration for the men and women serving our country in the military branches, and this was by far one of the best experiences of my life.”
Embarking on his non-military medical career, he worked with an orthopedic office for two years before opening his own practice. Now, he utilizes new FDA-approved and medically-supported treatments to squarely target patients who experience unresolved and persistent pain. With complaints about aching backs the second leading cause of visits to a doctor’s office, it’s easy to see how a minor incident might become something more debilitating.
“The ability to move or function is limited,” he said of patients experiencing chronic pain. “You are thinking it’s going to be short term, but it turns into days, weeks, months or years. Imagine how it could affect your overall ability to be gainfully employed or have a meaningful relationship with family. It affects all aspects of a person’s life and can easily impact the whole family.”
Pain management with NAPI’s tools can mean a world of difference. Unless surgery is clearly indicated, patients are best served with alternative methods including behavioral therapy, medication management and injections, Brownsberger said. These options can help improve motor skills and quality of life by significantly reducing the severity of pain. As a disease state progresses, a “whole smorgasbord of therapies” can be implemented.
Newer therapies include spinal stimulation, radio frequency therapy and epidural injections at trigger points. X-ray guidance plays an important role for injections to areas such as the knees, enabling Brownsberger to “see the contrast from the injection, feel the knee joint and know we are getting the medication to the right place.”
NAPI’s newest therapy is Dorsal Root Ganglion (DRG) stimulation, a minimally invasive treatment approved by the FDA. The DRG method utilizes stimulation through pacemaker-type implants to specific joints, such as the knee or foot, or an area affected by diabetic neuropathy. Wires connected to an external battery are maneuvered within the patient’s body to trial the therapy before surgical placement.
The DRG stimulation therapy locally and throughout Northern Arizona is only available through NAPI. July marked the first time a patient here was able to experience the technology, and the team was enthusiastic about the outcome.
“The beauty is that the patient gets to try it,” Brownsberger explained. “Patients have control over the treatment by turning if off or on, up or down. It works by preventing the signal for pain from getting to the brain.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau