Jim Huddleston always had an active life. An outdoors enthusiast, he enjoyed running and playing soccer and football for years. When a knee injury sidelined his morning jogs, he quickly took up cycling and fell in love with the sport. For Jim, riding his bike over 100 miles a week posed few challenges. But when back pain started getting in the way, Jim knew he had to seek help.
In the mid-1960s, Jim had just completed graduate school and was working as an engineer when he began experiencing pain in his lower back that radiated down his hips and into his legs. Diagnosed with sciatica, he managed the occasional discomfort for years through physical therapy and exercises to support his spine.
“Over time, the sciatica just kept getting worse no matter what I did,” Jim says. “My breaking point was when it took me off my bike.”
To find a long-term solution for his pain, Jim’s orthopedic surgeon referred him to John C. Quinn, MD, a neurosurgeon who provides care through UTHealth Neurosciences.
“Back pain can be a complex diagnosis,” says Quinn. “The examination revealed that although Jim has scoliosis, or abnormal curvature of the spine, it wasn’t the ultimate source of his discomfort.”
Instead, Jim’s pain originated in his sacroiliac joint, the junction between the hip bones and the lowest segment of the spine. Believing that Jim’s pain could be managed without surgery, Quinn referred him to a colleague, Ashley Amsbaugh, MD, a specialist in interventional pain management at UTHealth Neurosciences.
“We first tried managing the inflammation in his sacroiliac joint with steroid injections,” Amsbaugh says. “The injections allowed him to resume some normal activities like getting out of bed and walking with minimal discomfort, but they didn’t bring him long-term relief.”
Hitting the spot
Jim needed a more permanent solution for his sciatica, but his doctors wanted to avoid a major surgery, which would require a longer recovery time.To help resolve his pain, Amsbaugh suggested using radiofrequency ablation, a nonsurgical therapy that delivers radio waves through a needle to destroy nerves that carry pain signals to the brain. By treating the area around Jim’s sacroiliac joints with radiofrequency ablation, Amsbaugh was able to eliminate his sciatica pain.
“In most people, this treatment can take four to six weeks to receive the maximum benefit,” Amsbaugh says. “But Jim’s pain subsided almost immediately, and he was able to return to his active life right away.”
Thanks to the radiofrequency ablation therapy, Jim lives pain-free for months at a time, requiring only annual follow-up treatments to ensure its continued efficacy.
“The radiofrequency ablation treatments are a beautiful thing for somebody like me who wants to continue riding my bike without surgery,” Jim says. “I am thrilled with the results, and I am so thankful to Dr. Amsbaugh and Dr. Quinn for all their help.”
Back on track
Without the burden of sciatica pain, Jim quickly ramped up his cycling routine, returning to familiar bike routes around Houston. About a year and a half after his initial radiofrequency ablation treatments, he began experiencing a very different kind of back pain.
“My neck started bothering me while I was riding my bike, and I had this consistent pain that spread
from the top of my spine up around my ear,”
Because Jim was so pleased with his experiences getting treatment for sciatica, he immediately returned to see Amsbaugh and Quinn, who found a fracture in the cervical vertebrae of Jim’s neck. To fix the fracture—and relieve his pain—Jim needed surgery.
“I’ve enjoyed working with these doctors, and they have become almost part of my family at this point,” Jim says. “Even though neck surgery was a big step, I knew I would be in good hands.”
Quinn performed the procedure, successfully repairing the fracture in Jim’s neck. With time and healing, he believes that it will bring an end to Jim’s neck pain.
During recovery, Jim says he been looking forward to one thing: “I can’t wait to get back on my bike!”