A kite and paddleboard surfer who frequents local beaches, pain medicine and management specialist Dr. Akash Bajaj knows the fun and sense of freedom that comes with playing outdoors — and understands the frustration of physical ailments getting in the way.
The Westside is chockfull of orthopedic and sports medicine specialists that are among the best in the world, but Bajaj is pioneering a unique approach to treating chronic back and leg pain as medical director of Remedy Pain Solutions in Marina del Rey. Through a small incision in the back, Bajaj implants a small disc (about the size of a quarter) that eliminates pain by decompressing nerves in the spinal column. The outpatient surgery is usually finished in under an hour, and in less than a year Bajaj has already treated a few dozen patients this way.
“The results have been dramatic so far. For many patients, it’s life-changing,” he says. “I’m a surfer, so I can relate to the Westside mentality, and that motivates me to get these patients up and running as quickly as possible. It’s been incredibly inspiring to be able to deliver this type of procedure, because often these patients are at the end of their roads.”
Bajaj’s patients range from pro athletes and celebrities to weekend warriors and other active people recovering from injuries, and his recommended treatments vary from person to person. The implants are typically for those who have significant, persistent pain but are not good candidates for spinal surgery — like those with spinal stenosis and, in some cases, sciatica, he says.
A summa cum laude graduate of UC San Diego, Bajaj earned his M.D. and a master’s in public health from New York Medical College, and served his residency in anesthesiology at UCLA Medical Center. Recently he’s earned media and industry attention for advancing stem cell regeneration therapy as a way to treat damaged tissue, extracting platelet-rich plasma from a patient’s own blood and injecting it into trouble-spots in order to speed the healing process along.
While Bajaj will also prescribe traditional anti-inflammation medication, he won’t give his patients opioids or narcotics that can result in long-term dependency.
“As a physician, my goal is to restore function as quickly as possible and eliminate the need for ongoing treatments,” he says. “This [implant] procedure is groundbreaking. It’s changing the landscape of pain management.”
And about that Westside mentality: “It’s a unique combination of being in a coastal area and all of the amenities that come with it, like the weather and being in touch with Mother Nature. It makes people more friendly and affable,” Bajaj says. “What I like especially is the walkability of the Westside, and I think that helps keep things real and natural.”
— Gary Walker