Michael Nissenbaum

Sports have always been front and center for Michael Nissenbaum. He played college football at the University of Wisconsin – Stout and, upon graduation, spent evenings and weekends as a track and field and basketball official.

When Michael wasn’t playing or officiating games himself, he was watching them as a devoted fan. Whether he was road tripping to The Ohio State University for a Buckeyes game or walking up the road to the local high school sportsplex, Michael was always steeped in sports. So when debilitating back pain threatened to force Michael to the sidelines for good, he knew he needed a permanent solution.

Navigating Persistent Pain

While sports have been a welcome consistent companion for Michael over the years, the accompanying chronic pain has been a devastating consequence. Like hundreds, even thousands of football players, Michael suffered chronic pain stemming from repeated hits and blows sustained during years of play. The pain grew worse after a spinal fusion surgery to fix a degenerative disc in Michael’s back caused him to change his gait and the way he stood, leading to sciatica – back pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the legs.

“I was in such severe pain that I couldn’t sleep at night,” said Michael. “I couldn’t walk more than a block without having to stop, or sit down, or bend over to try and alleviate some of the pain.”

Eventually, Michael was forced to withdraw from many of the activities he loved – going to the park with his family, volunteering in his community and, of course, sports.

“It got to the point where I had to give up basketball officiating and my social and family life went by the wayside,” Michael said.

Michael tried everything to find relief: acupuncture, massage, physical therapy. He took prescription opioids for two years, but the looming risk of lifelong dependence and addiction scared him into quitting those, too. He switched to prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), but then developed a serious stomach ulcer from overuse. He felt as if he had reached the end of his rope.

“I was just desperate to find a non-narcotic solution to alleviate the pain,” Michael said. “For the past three to four years, I really had no social life – I’d drive home, I’d sit in a chair and watch TV. I knew something needed to change.”

So Michael began working with his health care team to draw up a different pain management playbook.

A New Game Plan

Michael’s neuro- and orthopedic surgeons referred him to Dr. Gladstone McDowell, a pain management specialist at Integrated Pain Solutions in Columbus, Ohio. Dr. McDowell recommended Michael try an innovative medtech cooled radiofrequency treatment. The procedure would be minimally-invasive, done in a comfortable outpatient setting.

Dr. McDowell explained that treatment targets the very source of pain transmission, using radiofrequency to deactivate the sensory nerves responsible for sending pain signals to the brain. It’s proven to provide significantly greater and longer-lasting pain relief, improved physical function and higher patient satisfaction than steroid injections. In fact, after one year of treatment, 2/3 of patients receiving the treatment cut their pain in half.

For Michael, significant pain reduction took far less than a year – he says the results were “immediate,” and he was able to stop taking prescription pain medication within a few weeks. Within a few months, he was re-engaging with old hobbies – even regular exercise.

“I’m doing things now that three years ago, I wouldn’t even consider trying,” Michael said. “I can walk two to three miles with my wife, where before, I couldn’t even walk around the block.”

Now, Michael has lost more than 60 pounds, feeling healthier and healthier each day. He’s enjoying a full life once more, seeing the world in real time rather than on the television.

“I’m back to regularly officiating track and field meets without any problems, and socializing with friends again,” he said.

Read more about medical technology’s role in pain management.