Most of us will experience some level of back pain at various points in our lives, whether from an acute injury or long-term wear and tear. In cases of severe, ongoing pain, the question of surgery often arises. However, spinal surgery comes with potential risks and complications, an often lengthy recovery period, and no guarantee of success.
You have lots of options before surgery
Here’s the good news, however: there are many possibilities to try before resorting to surgery. Drugs for back pain do not begin and end with pain killers. Work with your doctor to try different approaches, from muscle relaxants to topical treatments. The Mayo Clinic reports that in some cases antidepressants in low dosage have had a positive effect on back pain.
One of the most effective treatments for back pain is physical therapy. While it is tempting to rest a painful back, it is important to keep moving as much as you can. A physical therapist is a key part of any back pain treatment plan. They can work with you through stretches and exercises that will help ease your pain and hasten recovery. They have access to techniques like heat, electrical stimulation, or ultrasound that can provide great relief. As you recover, a good physical therapist will also teach you ways to stretch and strengthen your core muscles to help prevent re-injury.
Non-surgical techniques may provide the relief you need
If pain is ongoing and the combination of medicines and physical therapy is not bringing enough improvement, you and your doctor may try an intervention that can relieve your pain without surgery. Some people do very well with cortisone or steroid injections.
You may also be a candidate for radiofrequency neurotomy of the upper or lower back. The Center for Orthopedic Research and Education (CORE Institute) explains that this technique is used to identify the nerve that is transmitting the pain, and then use radiofrequency energy to disrupt the nerve and block that transmission. It is an outpatient procedure and recovery takes just a day or two for soreness to wear off. The pain relief will usually last anywhere from 12-16 months, and the procedure can be repeated if necessary.
Surgery is usually elective
There are relatively few instances where spinal surgery is an emergency situation. In rare cases involving progressive neurological loss of function or a sudden loss of bladder or bowel control, surgery may be required immediately.
In most cases, however, you can work with your doctor to get a specific diagnosis of the cause of the back pain, and try various non-surgical treatments first. If you do decide to proceed with an operation, make sure you choose a surgeon who specializes in spinal surgery. He or she should take time to explain the procedure to you, advise you on what to expect from the surgery and recovery, and go over all the risks involved.
Spinal surgery is a big step. There are risks involved in any surgery, and recovery will usually be a matter of weeks or even months rather than days. In many cases, non-surgical treatments are effective. Be sure to consider all of your options before deciding to go forward with the surgical approach.