Your spine is an elegant anatomical marvel of 33 individual bones stacked on top of one another that allows you to stand upright, bend and twist. But the strength and flexibility that’s engineered into your lower back also make it susceptible to injury. Over time, a sedentary lifestyle, poor posture, improper lifting, repetitive stress movements or excessive exercise can lead to spinal problems that cause back pain.
Nearly 80 percent of Americans experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Each year in the U.S., a staggering 30 million people receive professional medical care for back pain, with estimates that suggest we spend roughly $86 billion annually on our aching backs—equivalent to the amount we spend for cancer treatments.
Less invasive is always better
More and more people suffering from chronic back pain are opting for spine surgery without giving less-invasive pain-relief options a try, despite the fact that only about 5 percent of sufferers actually require surgery. From 2001 to 2011, the number of spinal fusions in U.S. hospitals increased 70 percent, making them more frequently performed than the common hip replacement. Unfortunately, more often than not, spinal surgery doesn’t alleviate a patient’s pain. Surgery can actually cause additional painful conditions, including decreased back motion, diminished activity levels and chronic muscle spasms. When this happens, it’s referred to as Failed Back Surgery Syndrome—a diagnosis so common, it was given a name.
Why do the majority of back surgeries fail? In most cases it’s because the source of the patient’s pain was never properly diagnosed. Today’s MRIs and other high-tech imaging routinely uncover degenerating discs and other spinal abnormalities that can be seen on scans for virtually anyone over the age of 30, regardless of whether or not they have pain. If a physician attributes the cause of a patient’s pain to one of these “abnormalities,” then surgery won’t fix the problem. One study found that in more than half of all “failed” spinal fusion patients, the sacroiliac, or SI joint—which is not part of the spine—was the true source of pain.
First things first
In 95% of all back pain cases, surgery should be the treatment of last resort. First, try some alternative treatment options that have had success in bringing relief to back pain patients. For example, epidural steroid injections deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly into the area around the irritated spinal nerve roots that cause pain. While these injections will not change your underlying condition, they can break the cycle of pain and provide you with a window of relief while you address your spinal issues through a rehabilitative program, such as physical therapy or exercise.
If you choose to use a nerve block, your physician will inject a numbing anesthetic like lidocaine into an area around the nerve for near-complete pain relief. Through a process of elimination, your doctor will be able identify which nerve is causing your pain—and then design a treatment plan for the problem area.
Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is a pain-relief technique that uses low-voltage electric current to interrupt how pain signals are sent to your brain. Most patients who qualify for SCS report a 50 to 70 percent reduction in overall pain, as well as an increased ability to participate in normal family and work activities.
In addition, incorporating complimentary alternative medicine (CAM) therapy options like physical therapy and acupuncture into your treatment plan can be effective in the reduction of back pain—and help put you back on course to leading a more active life that’s free from pain.
If you’d like to learn more about options for addressing your back pain, or have been told you need back surgery, we encourage you to call Pain Management and Injury Relief at (877) 724-6349 to make an appointment today.