This empathetic physician works to ease patients’ chronic pain.
The oldest of five children, Dr. Joseph Crapanzano got an early introduction to medicine. “My father was a physician on the faculty at LSU,” he says. “I grew up listening to how wonderful it was to take care of patients — to take care of sick individuals and offer them hope. That was what I was drawn to.”
Dr. Crapanzano earned his medical degree at Louisiana State University in New Orleans after completing his undergraduate studies at LSU. He completed an internship in general surgery at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver, where he honed his surgical skills.
However, it was not general surgery but anesthesiology that held his interest. “I got interested in pain early on,” he says. “My first patient was a young lady that came into Charity [Hospital]. I was a senior resident, and she was probably in her mid-30s.” The woman seemed worn out; she was suffering from chronic back pain, so Dr. Crapanzano gave her an epidural steroid injection to reduce the inflammation and ease her symptoms. When the patient returned a few weeks later, she looked happy and rested. “She showed back up, and said, ‘You’re so wonderful — you cured me!’” Dr. Crapanzano remembers. “That’s when I realized what a difference you can make in people’s lives by effectively managing severe pain.”
After spending several years at University Hospital (formerly Hotel Dieu Hospital) working as an anesthesiologist and teaching medical residents, Dr. Crapanzano became one of the first physicians to earn board certification in the subspecialty of pain medicine. In 1996, he joined the staff at East Jefferson General Hospital, helping establish the hospital’s chronic pain treatment center. In 2004, he established Parish Pain Specialists in Metairie.
For the past 14 years, Dr. Crapanzano has focused exclusively on treating patients with chronic pain. “Most of the chronic pain patients that we treat have spinal problems or joint problems,” he explains. “The spinal issues are treated in varying ways, depending on the pathology. Patients will often come in with injuries. However, many of our older patients simply have the degenerative diseases that come with age.” He sees patients at Parish Pain Specialists and at East Jefferson General Hospital, where he continues to be involved with the pain center he helped found.
Treatments for chronic spine-mediated pain can include epidural steroid injections or injections at the facet joints or sacroiliac joints; radio-frequency ablation of small nerves in the spine; or implantable spinal cord stimulators that block pain-signal transmission. “There are some things on the horizon that have not become mainstream yet, but that may very well become mainstream,” Dr. Crapanzano says. These potential treatments include stem-cell therapy, wherein placental stem cells are injected into discs in the spine or joints in the body. “Those are potentially good therapies,” he says. “Their long-term efficacy is yet to be proven, but it’s an exciting opportunity for us to make some progress.”
What many people don’t know is that chronic pain doesn’t just hurt. Over time, it also damages the brain’s ability to regulate neurotransmitters related to happiness and pain management. “Chronic pain causes depression,” Dr. Crapanzano says. “It just completely wears you out. It’s a tremendously stressful event.” Patients’ pain often keeps them from getting a good night’s sleep, adding to their discomfort and fatigue.
Dr. Crapanzano urges patients with chronic pain to work with a physician who can help. “Pain is a really debilitating process that impacts not just the patient, but their whole family,” he says. “They should seek out care when they have pain. There is help available out there.”
Joseph T. Crapanzano, M.D.
East Jefferson General Hospital
4500 Clearview Pkwy., Suite 101
Metairie, LA 70006
MEDICAL SCHOOL: Louisiana State University
RESIDENCY: Charity Hospital, Anesthesiology
BOARD CERTIFICATIONS: Anesthesiology, Pain Medicine