Doctors Trust Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land to Get Them Back on Their Feet

Cover Story | Photos by Joey Belleza –

Dr. Rony Ninan, Dr. Niraj Patel and Dr. Jeffrey Wood.

Where do physicians turn when they need medical care for their own aching backs or other injuries? Many of Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital’s top physicians have been treated at the hospital’s Neuroscience & Spine Center – trusting their own health to their colleagues and coworkers.

In April, the Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land celebrates its 10th anniversary, mark-ing a decade of helping patients from across Fort Bend County and surrounding areas recover from pain so they can live healthy, active lives.

The Neuroscience & Spine Center offers expedited, timely appointments; access to world-class specialists and sub-specialists; customized, coordinated care from a multidisciplinary team; and comfortable, accurate diagnostic testing with state-of-the-art technology.

Getting Back into Action

Physical therapist Michelle Heebner and Dr. Niraj Patel.

Physical therapist Michelle Heebner and Dr. Niraj Patel.

Back pain is one of the most common ailments that adults face, and doctors aren’t immune. For doctors, long days of standing and many long hours in operating rooms put extra pressure on the spine and neck and can lead to pain from overuse.

Niraj Patel, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN at Houston Methodist Sugar Land, recently learned first-hand how the Neuroscience & Spine Center can help patients in pain.  Patel had been experiencing shooting pain down his leg for several months, beginning in mid-2019. As it worsened, he found it difficult to stand, walk or even sleep. His exercise routine – something he had focused on intently in recent months – was put on hold.

“I don’t know what specifically caused the injury, but it was getting to the point where the pain was affecting everything I did,” said Patel. “I knew I had to take care of it.”

Patel sought help from the Neuroscience & Spine Center who set an appointment to see Irfan Lalani, M.D., board-certified neurologist and pain management specialist. A physical exam and MRI showed that Patel was suffering from a herniated disc that was pressing against a nerve, causing the pain in his leg.

Dr. Rony Ninan and physical therapist Dan Kershner.

Dr. Rony Ninan and physical therapist Dan Kershner.

Lalani performed a spinal epidural on Patel, which provided immediate pain relief. Two weeks later, Rajesh Bindal, M.D., board-certified neurosurgeon at the Neuroscience & Spine Center, removed the herniated disk in a minimally invasive procedure that took just 45 minutes. One week later, Patel had resumed his normal routine.

“I am extremely grateful to Dr. Lalani and Dr. Bindal,” said Patel. “The entire process was so seamless; it was such a positive experience from start to finish and everyone was wonderful to me. I would definitely recommend the expedited service from the Neuroscience & Spine Center to family, friends and my patients.”

Following the discectomy, Patel received physical therapy three times a week for two months at the hospital’s Neuroscience & Spine Center, under the direction of physical therapist Michelle Heebner.  “Michelle is an amazing physical therapist,” said Patel. “She taught me how to improve my posture and the proper ways to lift and bend. We worked on everything from how I stand to how I sleep in order to reduce the stress on my back and neck and strengthen my muscles to prevent future injury.”

Today, Patel remains pain-free. “The Neuroscience & Spine Center changed the trajectory of my life and gave me back my health,” he said.

The Importance of Therapy

One of the many benefits that the Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center offers is on-site access to outstanding rehabilitation facilities and services.

Houston Methodist Sugar Land offers one of the country’s leading physical therapy/rehabilitation programs. Board-certified and fellowship-trained experts in back and neck therapy work directly with Neuroscience & Spine Center physicians to create and implement training plans that help patients overcome their injury or condition, reduce or eliminate pain and regain their mobility.

Dr. Jeffrey Wood and physical therapist Dan Kershner.

Houston Methodist Sugar Land is one of just a handful of sites in the U.S. offering resident and fellowship training programs in physical therapy, which requires a highly skilled, experienced staff that stays up to date on the latest techniques and studies.

Rony Ninan, M.D., is a board-certified neurologist at the Neuroscience & Spine Center. When he was diagnosed with a medial meniscus tear in his right knee that required surgery, he knew where to turn for post-surgical physical therapy.

“The therapy we provide here is just phenomenal,” he said. “I had an excellent experience. My physical therapist, Dan Kershner, helped me understand how the muscle weakness in my knee had led to the tear and worked with me to strengthen those areas to prevent future injuries.”

For Ninan, being a patient at the center where he works every day was a unique experience. “It really opened my eyes,” he said. “I’ve always known that our rehabilitation facilities and our therapists play a major role in helping people recover from surgery or stroke, but to experience it first-hand is amazing. Having someone take the time to explain my injury and really work with me on a customized plan to get better and stronger was incredibly helpful. It made all the difference.”

Ninan’s physical therapy paid off when he was able – once again – to play with his children at home. “And my colleagues couldn’t give me a hard time for limping around the office anymore,” he laughed.

Houston Methodist: The Right Choice

Jeffrey Wood, M.D., is a board-certified orthopedic spine surgeon at Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center.

Throughout his career, he’s performed thousands of spinal surgeries, from disc excision and replacement procedures to lumbar fusions and nerve decompression surgeries. But after dealing with his own back pain, he decided it was time to become a patient.

“Over the years, I’ve had four epidural steroid injections given by Dr. Marvin Chang at the Neuroscience & Spine Center,” said Wood. “The first three worked extremely well, eliminating my pain and allowing me to start and continue an exercise program designed to strengthen my back and core to provide better support. The pain kept returning after a few years and the fourth injection didn’t really help. I found myself unable to stand for long periods of time due to pain.”

Wood underwent an anterior/posterior lumbar decompression and spinal fusion, a complex surgery that removes bone and disc material to release pressure on nerve roots and permanently bond the impacted vertebrae. His decision to stay within the Houston Methodist system for his care was easy to make.

“Houston Methodist is unsurpassed in the area,” he said. “It’s the highest quality of care in my experience as a physician and a patient.”

Following his recovery, Wood, too, underwent physical therapy at Houston Methodist Sugar Land. “Our rehabilitation team members are the best,” he said. “I work closely with them every day to develop and implement therapy plans for my patients, so I know first-hand how dedicated and skilled they are. I wouldn’t trust anyone else.”

Step One: Make an Appointment

For patients, Wood said, contacting the Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land is a critical first step to relieving back or neck pain.

“The Neuroscience & Spine Center can get patients in quickly, usually in a couple of days or so, and connect you with the proper specialist who can help with your specific condition,” Wood said. “It might be a pain management specialist, a neurologist or, if necessary, a neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon. Most importantly, we all work together as a team to coordinate care and ensure that we are taking the most conservative, most beneficial approach to treatment, customized to each patient’s unique situation.”

“The important thing to remember is that relief is possible. I know so many people who have back pain, yet they are fearful of having anything done,” Patel said. “But there are so many treatment options available today, and the team at Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land is excellent. I encourage everyone to make that call and see what treatment might be right for you.”

Don’t Put It Off Any Longer: Discover the Solution to Your Back or Neck Pain

While surgery can often be an effective treatment option for individuals with severe back or neck pain, it’s not always necessary.

“We have a number of options today for treating people without surgery,” said Rony Ninan, M.D., board-certified neurologist at Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land. “For many patients, a combination of physical therapy and lifestyle modifications – like more frequent exercise and improved ergonomics – can bring relief and make it possible to avoid future problems.”

The Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center is home to an experienced team of specialists and sub-specialists, all backed by the area’s leading imaging and diagnostics – including three whole-body, 3-Tesla MRI scanners, the industry’s most powerful technology typically found only in the nation’s top academic medical centers.

To make an appointment with a Neuroscience & Spine Center specialist, call 281.205.4662 or go to and click on “Appointment Request Form.”