The top three back pain complaints spine surgeons see and how to treat them
As a spine surgeon, patients come to me with a common complaint – back pain. And it’s usually after they’ve exhausted home remedies and the discomfort has become too much to bear. From overexertion or sitting too long, to arthritis and osteoporosis, an achy back can arise for various reasons, and finding the source of the pain is key to determining the underlying cause and the appropriate treatment. Here are three common back pain complaints we typically see and potential approaches for addressing them:
Spinal disks are stacked between your vertebrae to make your spine. A herniated disk occurs when the soft, rubbery inside of the disk pushes out through the exterior. It can happen in any part of the spine and when it does, patients often complain of sharp or radiating pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs or arms.
Physical therapy, chiropractic care, and pain management techniques (e.g., medication, injections) can often provide relief, and surgery may be necessary if those treatments fail to alleviate symptoms. Procedures like discectomy (removal of the herniated portion) or spinal fusion may be recommended to stabilize the spine and alleviate pressure on nerves.
Spinal stenosis is a spine disorder that occurs when the space inside the backbone is too small, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Spinal stenosis often causes chronic pain, tingling, weakness, or numbness in the legs or back and symptoms can intensify over time.
Conservative treatments include physical therapy, pain management, lifestyle modifications, and exercises aimed at strengthening the core and improving posture that can help manage symptoms.
If those measures do not work, we might recommend decompressive surgeries like a laminotomy or laminectomy to alleviate pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. A laminotomy is the partial removal of the spine’s lamina, the arch of bone that protects your spinal canal, and a laminectomy is the complete removal of the lamina. It sounds like a drastic course of action, but in reality, these are common procedures. Fusion is another option to help stabilize the spine.
Patients with spondylolisthesis often experience lower back pain, muscle stiffness, and potential nerve compression due to one vertebra slipping forward over another. Spondylolisthesis is a common cause of lower back pain, especially in younger athletes. And, as we age, we are at a higher risk for developing this degenerative spine condition.
Here again, we look to physical therapy as a first course of action. In addition, we’ll try bracing and exercise regimens that strengthen the back and abdominal muscles to provide relief and stability.
Spinal fusion surgery may be necessary to stabilize the spine and prevent further slippage. Additional procedures may be performed to decompress nerves if necessary.
It’s important to note that every patient we see is unique, and we tailor treatment plans to individual needs and preferences. After conducting thorough evaluations, including imaging studies and other diagnostic tests, to accurately diagnose the underlying issue, we can recommend appropriate treatment options for comprehensive and effective management of back pain. Please know that we’ve always got your back.