If you have been suffering chronic back and neck pain, it seems like everyone has the “magic bullet” to cure your pain. A simple Google search will give you countless options that range from herbal supplements to surgery. But how do you know what works and what is a waste of time and money?
Below, Board Certified Orthopedic Spine Surgeon Dr. Steven Leckie gives you a definitive guide to which treatments are myths and which can be effective.
Many supplements claim to reduce pain and promote healing for everything from arthritis to back pain and the idea of a simple over the counter supplement to cure your pain is often enticing. However, this is truly a “buyer beware” situation. Unfortunately, the FDA is only in the beginning stages of making sure supplement makers label what their products are effective and supplement makers can still make claims that their “proprietary blends” can cure you back or neck pain, without strong scientific evidence.
No credible studies or clinical trials have shown that these supplements can reduce or cure spinal conditions. At best, any effects may be nothing more than a placebo.
Hanging, Rolling and Home Exercises
Countless infomercials tout the benefits of hanging upside down, foam rolling or at home exercise, and while there is some science behind this, it does not mean you should spend hundreds of dollars on it.
Before engaging in any “at home” treatments you should first understand the underlying condition that is causing your pain. This is important because, depending upon the injury, certain motions, movements or strenuous activity can actually make the condition worse.
Verdict: Consult a spine specialist first
In most cases, the first course of treatment recommended by a spine specialist will be Physical Therapy. The goal of Physical Therapy is to strengthen the muscles surrounding the spine so that pain can be reduced. This is done through what is known as “dynamic stabilization” and often focuses on the core (abdominal) muscles and the lower back and quadriceps muscles. Once pain has been reduced, the Physical Therapist may focus on exercises that increase mobility of the muscles around the spine, improve posture and create a continuing program that will help to prevent pain from returning.
Studies have shown that Physical Therapy can reduce back and neck pain, and can reduce the chances of the pain returning. Furthermore, it is covered by most insurances.
Interventional Pain Management
For many who are not yet ready for surgery, this form of treatment can be highly effective. Interventional Pain Management focuses on the non-surgical treatment of spinal conditions by using therapeutic injections into the area of the spine that is causing pain. Depending upon the underlying injury and its severity, several options are available, including Epidural Injections, Trigger Point Injections, Corticosteroid Injections, Facet Joint Injections and Nerve Blocks. In most cases, an Interventional Pain Management Specialist is Board Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and can be known as a “PM&R Specialist” or a “Physiatrist”, as well.
The purpose of these non-surgical treatments is to target the specific nerve(s) of the spine that are causing pain and inject medications to reduce irritation and inflammation. Pain Management is effective for many common spinal conditions including herniated discs, sciatica, spinal stenosis and radiculopathy. This form of treatment can be used if Physical Therapy has not provided adequate relief from pain or in conjunction with Physical Therapy to maximize results.
Laser Spine Surgery
The term “laser spine surgery” has become increasingly popular over the years for back and neck pain and many patients often ask their doctor if they are candidates for this type of surgery. In my opinion, laser spine surgery is term used to make what is already known as “Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery” sound a bit more pleasing. Despite what you may have been told, lasers cannot correct issues within your spine and a surgeon still needs to decompress the spinal nerves or stabilize the spine in order to relieve your pain.
Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery
We know what you’re thinking – spine surgery is invasive, painful and leaves a nasty scar. It seems like everyone knows someone who underwent spine surgery with less than optimal results. While many of these concerns were true in the past, advances in technology and training have changed spine surgery significantly over the last decade.
Historically, spine surgeries required a long incision along the spine so that the surgeon was able to see the anatomy of the spine and correct the underlying spinal condition. This invasive surgery resulted in multiple night’s stay in a hospital, a long recovery period and a large scar.
Today, these same procedures for back and neck pain can be carried out through smaller incisions of only a few inches and many patients are even able to return home the same day as their procedure.
This change has been brought about by what is known as fluoroscopy, which is a real time X-ray of the spine during a procedure. Because the spine can now be seen in real time, there may not be the need to dissect a large area of muscle and tissue to access the spine. Instead, a small incision is made at the affected area of the spine and small surgical tools and a surgical microscope are used to remove portions of spinal discs, decompress spinal nerves and restore stability to the spine which can alleviate chronic pain. Due to this smaller incision, the recovery time is significantly expedited and patients are no longer forced to spend days or weeks bedridden and away from work.
It is important to note that spine surgery is usually only considered when other conservative treatments have failed to reduce back and neck pain or if there is a significant neurological deficit present (loss of motor functions, constant numbness in the hands or feet, etc) that must be addressed immediately.
Verdict: Effective when other treatments have failed (and not as scary as you think)
What Should I Do First?
Now that you know the treatment options that can be effective and those that are not, the most important step is consulting a spine specialist so that a unique treatment plan can be created for you based on your specific condition.
At Plymouth Bay Orthopedic Associates, our Spine Team consists of Board Certified Orthopedic and Spine Surgeons, Board Certified Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Specialists and Physical Therapists – all of whom collaborate on your treatment and develop a plan based on your condition, lifestyle and your goals. Our Spine Team works with you through each phase of your treatment and offers the latest advances in both surgical and non-surgical techniques for back and neck pain. If you have been suffering chronic back or neck pain, contact our offices in Duxbury or Sandwich today!