Surgical and Non-Surgical Solutions
For Lumbar and Cervical Pain
Very few things will make the average person feel more miserable than acute or chronic back pain. Most Americans consider themselves healthy and happy, as long as they are not suffering from physical pain. We can happily work, play and enjoy our lives, until we are assaulted by pain in our lower back, shoulders or neck. Once we have been forced to cut back our activities because of back pain, we may suddenly feel helpless and hopeless.
According to WebMD and other medical websites, approximately 80 – 90% of American adults will experience back pain at some point during their lifetimes. In fact, it is estimated that, in any given year, about half of all working adults in the United States will experience back pain. It becomes chronic pain for many of them. It is the fifth most common reason in the United States for people to see their doctors.
There are many different types of back pain. You can experience it in your lower, middle or upper back. It can be caused by either muscle or nerve problems; it can also be the result of bone loss or degenerative disc disease. Back pain is frequently a result of arthritis, as well. Your pain may take different forms, too. It can be a sharp pain, a burning sensation, or a constant ache. Many people experience having their pain radiate into other areas of their bodies, such as their legs, feet, hands and arms. When this happens, it may cause them to experience tingling in the feet or hands, numbness or weakness. However you experience your back pain, it can be debilitating.
When the pain is sharp enough, or goes on long enough, most people will eventually seek help from their general practitioner or even a neurosurgeon. When they do, they may be surprised to discover that back surgery is not the only option. It fact, it might not even be the preferred option. There are often non-surgical treatments that can be tried before resorting to back surgery. In many cases, the non-surgical treatments will permanently postpone back surgery. Listed below are common treatments for back pain, both surgical and non-surgical.
Physical Therapy Interventions for Back Pain
Often pain in the back and neck can be treated conservatively, without surgery. The pain may be the result of inflammation of the joints of the spine, muscle strain, damaged ligaments, irritation of a nerve root or another medical condition. In these cases, the solution might be gentle traction to relieve pressure; cold packs followed by moist heat; ultrasound treatments; massage; electrical stimulation; or braces for the neck or low back. In these situations, your physician will probably prescribe a number of treatments by a physical therapist. After completing your physical therapy, you may want to continue with some of the treatments that seemed most helpful, such as periodic massages.
Strength Training to Support the Back
If a patient only has back pain occasionally, it may be possible to prevent its reoccurrence with the proper exercise regimen. Exercise strengthens the muscles, tendons and ligaments that hold the bones and spine in proper alignment, and it reduces the stress on the bones. Exercise also increases the flow of oxygen and nutrients to damaged muscles. In addition, it releases pain-easing endorphins in the brain. A well-rounded exercise program would include doing warm up exercises and stretching, as well as exercises that build muscle strength. Patients need to consult with their physician or a physical therapist to determine the best exercise approach to meet their needs. The exercise program should be continued for a lifetime, or the back pain could return. After you have learned the proper exercises from a physical therapist, you can either continue to perform them at home on your own, or seek the assistance of a trainer at your gym.
Pain Medication and Muscle Relaxants
Often your doctor will also suggest pain medications or muscle relaxants to help with the healing process. The pain medications can make you more comfortable as you rebuild your muscles. The medication may also serve an anti-inflammatory purpose, which will speed up healing. Muscle relaxants can also lesson the pain, and make your more comfortable. Often these medications are used in combination with the non-surgical treatments mentioned above. They may also be used after one of the surgeries listed below, to help keep you comfortable and to aid in your recovery.
Some of the medications that may be recommended could be over- the-counter NSAID’s such as acetaminophen. You may also be prescribed antidepressants, antihistamines, steroids or narcotics. In some cases, a topical ointment may be recommended to help relax the muscles and ease pain. In addition, your doctor may give you an epidural steroid injection, an intrathecal morphine pump or facet joint and medical branch blocks. Be sure to use your medication as prescribed. It can be an integral part of the healing process. In addition, some pain medications can be highly addictive. You do not want to abuse them.
Surgical Treatment Options for Lumber or Lower Back Pain
Sometimes, medication and non-surgical treatments for back pain simply are not enough. In these cases, it may be necessary for a neurosurgeon to perform surgery to alleviate the discomfort. Often, this means that a damaged or degenerating disc can be replaced with an artificial disc. In other cases, a surgeon may implant an intrathecal pain pump or a spinal cord stimulator in your back as a way to alleviate the pain or assist the healing process. In the past all spine surgery was performed using an open surgical approach, which left a noticeable scar. Today, however, many of the procedures can be done using a minimally invasive approach, which also significantly reduces the size of the scar. Your surgeon will determine which method will work best for your situation.
Surgical Treatment Options for Cervical or Neck Pain
If you are experiencing cervical or neck pain, one surgical technique that may be used is posterior cervical fusion surgery, which will provide stabilization of the neck. When the neck is involved, however, the pain is not always limited to that part of the body. Instead, the pain may radiate down your arms. If the pressure in your neck is causing pressure to the nerves, the surgeon may perform additional cervical procedures to relieve the pressure. As with lower back pain, another possible option for neck pain (and pain in other parts of the back) involves surgically replacing a degenerative disc with an artificial one.
The good news for millions of Americans who suffer with back pain is that they no longer have to accept that back pain is inevitable. Instead, they should see their family physician for an examination, including x-rays and other diagnostic tests. When their issues can be treated with physical therapy, strength training and medications, the sooner patients start the process the better off they will be, and the quicker they will achieve pain relief. A family physician will also know when it is best to refer their patients to a specialist, such as neurosurgeon, to determine if surgery is the best option.
Source of statistics on back pain: www.wikipedia.com and www.webmd.com
Sources of treatment information: www.webmd.com and www.spinalhealth.com
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