Chronic back pain is a debilitating and life-altering condition. Begin with spinal anatomy. Between each cervical (neck), thoracic (middle back) and lumbar (lower back) vertebra lies an oval-shaped pad called an intervertebral disc. These pads help absorb and cushion the shock created by the many movements our backs and necks make each day. With aging, however, the discs break down. The disc’s outer capsule, called the annulus fibrosus, weakens and may break open, allowing the center gelatinous portion of the disc, called the nucleus pulposus, to leak out. Another part of the spine affected by age is the joints of the spine, called facet joints. They can degenerate because of wear (osteoarthritis) or inflammatory connective tissue diseases (rheumatoid arthritis). Regardless of the cause, any condition that damages the spine can lead to constriction of one or more of the many nerve passages contained in the spinal column. Spinal nerves traverse these passages en route to all areas of the body. Pain from compressed spinal nerves may radiate to anyplace that the nerve travels.
Effective treatment of any condition cannot be properly performed without accurate diagnosis. Therefore, before any treatment, a physician must gather medical history and perform an examination. The physician will likely require an MRI or CT scan to confirm the diagnosis. With a firm diagnosis in hand, treatment can begin.
Chronic back pain treatment should always start with a conservative, noninvasive rehabilitation plan, including:
- Physical therapy (low-impact exercises and strength-building movements)
- Over-the-counter or prescription pain medications
- Steroid injections
- Hot and cold packs
If these prove ineffective, your physician may suggest back surgery to relieve pressure on nerves in the spinal column, or to limit motion in damaged areas of the spine:
- Laminectomy or foraminectomy – removal of significant portions of spinal bone
- Discectomy – removal of one or more intervertebral discs
- Artificial disc replacement – a prosthetic disc is implanted in place of a damaged disc (this surgery is still relatively experimental)
- Spinal fusion – two or more of the vertebrae are permanently fused together
Choosing surgical treatment of back pain is an extremely important decision. Factors to consider include expense, hospital stays, recovery time, infection risk, nerve damage and anesthesia. Challenges related to most of these factors can be reduced with minimally invasive spine surgery. Laser Spine Institute is ready to advise you concerning your options for chronic back pain treatment. Our state-of-the-art endoscopic procedures are minimally invasive and are performed on an outpatient basis, reducing negative factors and allowing you to return to an active lifestyle as soon as possible. Contact us today for a free review of your MRI or CT scan.