Back pain is one of the most common reasons for seeking medical care. Eight out of 10 Americans experience back problems in their lifetime, with complaints ranging from nagging lower back discomfort to pain so debilitating it interferes with work and everyday activities.
Several factors may contribute to back pain, including overuse, injuries, arthritis and weak back and abdominal muscles. Simply getting older can be a major factor as well.
“As we age, our bodies begin to show signs of wear and tear that can lead to spine problems, “ said Scripps orthopaedic surgeon Neville Alleyne, MD. “Our spinal discs lose hydration and become stiffer. Because of that, we become less flexible. That loss of flexibility can make it easier for the back to become injured.”
Treatments for Back Pain
Start with non-invasive treatments first. If back pain is mild, over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen relieve pain and reduce the inflammation that may be contributing to it. If over-the-counter pain relievers aren’t effective, your physician may recommend a prescription-strength NSAID or muscle relaxer.
Many people also find relief through complementary therapies such as massage therapy, chiropractic treatments and acupuncture. Physical therapy is often very helpful in treating pain and preventing future injury.
If none of these treatments provides relief, it may be time to consider surgery.
“Surgery should be your last option, but it may be the best one for specific conditions such as a compressed nerve or a collapsed or slipped disc,” said Scripps orthopedic surgeon Maneesh Bawa, MD. “Typically, back surgery either relieves pressure from the nerve that is causing the pain, called decompression, or immobilizes the segment that is pressing on the nerve, known as fusion.”
If the problem is a damaged disc, artificial disc replacement may be an option. The damaged disc is removed and replaced with an artificial mechanical disc with the goal of restoring range of motion.
Scripps orthopedic surgeons may treat many of these conditions with minimally invasive surgery, which involves one or more small incisions instead of a large incision. Compared to standard open surgeries, minimally invasive procedures may result in less blood loss, less pain after surgery, and reduced scarring. Recovery time often is faster as well.
“Minimally invasive spine surgery can relieve back and leg pain while causing less muscle trauma during surgery, and get patients back to their active lifestyle,” said Dr. Bawa.
In addition, Scripps surgeons recently became the first in the West to perform spinal fusion surgery using the Mazor X surgical guidance system, a sophisticated robotic-guided technology. Potential candidates for Mazor X robotic spine surgery include patients with degenerative spine conditions, scoliosis, injury, tumors and more.
“Mazor X enables surgeons to be even more precise, consistent and efficient in the operating room,” said Dr. Alleyne. “It opens the door for patients with a variety of spinal issues to benefit from this leading-edge treatment approach.”
If you’re having back pain that does not improve with home care, contact your physician and get started on the road to recovery.