Chronic pain and your spine
While some instances of chronic pain are muscular-related, almost all cases can be traced back to the spine. The spine is a complex structure made up of several bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are tough but spongy discs. These bones and discs protect the spinal cord, where several nerves branch out to different parts of the body. If the bones or discs become compromised in any way, the result could be long-term back pain.
What’s causing that pain?
Degenerative disc disease is the most common cause. Discs wear down with age, causing pain and discomfort. Degenerative discs or a previous injury can cause a herniated disc. Slipped discs press on nerves, causing pain, weakness, and numbness. Nerves also pass through narrow spaces in the vertebral column. Conditions like spinal stenosis and spondylosis can restrict the space and irritate the nerves.
Can you stand the pain?
Medical practitioners often rely on pain management, as this can bring both immediate and long-term relief. Pain management starts with a combination of rest and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Medication helps reduce inflammation while rest helps prevent the pain from progressing. If this fails, doctors will move on to other techniques.
A shot to the system
If the medical team identifies nerve damage, epidural steroid injections are an effective option. Epidural injections are a simple procedure that sends long-lasting, pain-relieving drugs to the area. The doctor injects a corticosteroid in a simple, outpatient procedure. Epidurals last several months and can even help rule out certain conditions causing chronic pain.
Exercise your way to pain management
Stronger back muscles can better support the spine and reduce pain over time. Physical therapy refers to specific exercises that focus on improving strength and flexibility. With consistent work, patients should feel relief and can have a better quality of life. A trained physical therapist can provide a range of exercises based on the condition.
Turning to surgery
If non-surgical options fail, surgery may help. If the pain is disc-related, a spine surgeon may opt for a discectomy. This procedure removes part or all of the disc causing pain. Some patients may benefit from a disc replacement, where an artificial disc takes the place of the damaged one. This procedure may also involve a fusion. With fusions, the doctor allows the bones to grow and heal together.
Freeing up some space
What if the nerves need some breathing room? By giving some much-needed space, surgery can help with chronic back pain. A laminotomy or laminectomy removes part or all of the lamina, a small part of the vertebrae. A foraminotomy may work just the same, as this procedure removes another part of the vertebrae called the neuroforamen. Some of these procedures may be performed together, like a laminectomy and discectomy.
Pain management vs surgery
For both methods, the goal is simple: to reduce pain as much as possible. However, there are some clear differences. Pain management is an ongoing process. Once the patient stops the pain management strategies, the pain returns. This could mean the patient could get dependent on medication. Pain management, on the other hand, removes the risk involved with surgery. Surgery usually has a high success rate and can bring relief spanning years. However, there is a risk of further damage and subsequent procedures in the future. Pain management works best for those unsure or fearful about surgery. Surgery works best for those unresponsive to pain management techniques.
Make the right choice for you
Chronic back pain can make life unbearable for millions of people. Speaking with a doctor is the first step in finding the root cause of pain. From there, choose either pain management or surgery. Pain management is an effective first step. However, surgery may be best if there is clear damage and unbearable chronic pain. Whatever the decision, a better back means a better life. Speak with a healthcare provider to learn more about managing chronic back pain.