When is Back Surgery the Right Choice?
Many Canadians experience back pain on a daily basis. These can result from chronic issues or can be caused by lifestyle and habits. Consider how often a desk job or bad posture can lead to severe pain to both upper and lower areas of the back. In some cases, it is possible to perform strengthening exercises to see an improvement but for some, a surgical approach is the only solution. In the event of a breakdown in cushioning discs or spinal stenosis in aging patients, it is important to consider surgery in order to improve quality of life.
Do I need back surgery? For those patients who have to ask themselves or their physicians this question, the answer is often yes. Once patients have exhausted non-surgical, medical options, a surgical approach might be all that is left for pain relief. In addition to actual pain, numbness and pressure in the lower back, these issues can cause leg pain and even reduced mobility. In order to decide whether surgical procedures are right for your issues, it is important to review key indicators and speak with a spine surgeon to discuss options.
Understanding Lumbar Spine Surgery
There is a big difference between quick bursts of pain associated with notable injuries and prolonged issues associated with a mechanical issue with the spine.
Spinal Fusion: The process of having two vertebrae surgically adjoined in order to create one single unit, often using screws and rods to stabilize the spinal canal. One of the most common instances where fusion is necessary is with spondylolisthesis, which is a misalignment of the vertebrae.
Damaged Discs: If pain can be traced to specific areas, namely spinal discs, a diseconomy is a better option. This method is used to treat herniated discs or discs that have stiffened or begun to degrade. One of the most common ways to diagnose a disc issue is through the presence of sciatica, which is a pain that stretches into the buttocks and down into the leg.
Spinal Stenosis: An issue that occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows, often present in aging spines. This narrowing is caused by bulging discs and an overgrowth of bone. This narrowing presses on nerves and nerve roots, leading to pain. This pain is unique from others and can be much more prevalent in some positions than others (ex. worsened pain when leaning back but decreasing pain when leaning forward).
Back pain and leg pain often go hand-in-hand. A surgical approach to back issues can often improve leg pain and sometimes patients will experience more relief from leg pain than back pain. Imaging tests can help to pinpoint problem areas such as bone spurs, herniated discs or issues surrounding the spinal column. The first step to any improvement is to reach an accurate diagnosis and begin to discuss both medical and surgical treatments with a healthcare provider.
Applying Physical Therapy and Conservative Care Before Surgery
Back pain is one of the most common reasons that patients will seek help from a physician. Everything from a nasty fall to being seated in an uncomfortable position over prolonged periods — and even sleeping wrong — can lead to back pain. It is completely possible to wait out back pain that is caused in these ways. When back pain is fresh, it is possible that you are dealing with additional pressure on the spine or adjoining muscle groups. Taking an anti-inflammatory can help to relieve this pressure. As tempting as it might be to rest in bed with a sore back, prolonged periods of inactivity can do more damage. Keeping active may not feel great at the moment but it is beneficial in the long run, particularly when combined with stretching and strengthening exercises. If there is no improvement, it is time to consider a surgical approach.