Back to the Basics: Back Pain Prevention and Treatment
When Back Surgery is an Option
One of the best advantages humans have over animals is our ability to stand up and walk. However, spending many years in an upright position has a downside too: as people age, their back does too, and the normal wear and tear and compression on the back can lead to recurring back pain.
Over time, the aging back can hurt due to degenerating discs, herniated discs, bone spurs, arthritis in the back joints, and pinched nerves. The spine can become unstable, we can lose height, and our posture can get worse, too.
Ninety percent of Americans will have back pain at one point or another, and for about 5-10 percent, the pain will become chronic and disabling, says Dr. Antulio Aroche, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Community Memorial Health System. Most lower back pain can be treated effectively without surgery, says Dr. Aroche, but elective spine surgery can also improve quality of life for many patients.
Back surgery has greatly evolved in the modern era, with new techniques and less invasive surgical options. If you are being treated for lower back pain and haven’t seen a surgeon or had a surgery consultation in several years, it’s worth consulting a back surgeon.
Treatment Options for Back Pain
Treatment Option 1: Do nothing and live with the pain.
Treatment Option 2: Take anti-inflammatory medication, have physical therapy, and modify or reduce your activity level. “I don’t recommend narcotics because they can mask the symptoms and also lead to addiction,” Dr. Aroche says.
Treatment Option 3: Steroid injections in the back can be given up to three times per year for pain management and to reduce inflammation at the pain site (if it’s known). Or, injections can be given in a diagnostic effort to further nail down the source of pain. “If the patient has significant relief from the injection but it doesn’t last that long, he or she is a candidate for surgery to cure the pain at the root cause,” says Dr. Aroche.
Treatment Option 4: Have back surgery. Surgery can range from stabilizing the spine to taking pressure off the nerves. “Spine surgery has evolved,” says Dr. Aroche. “Where we are right now is very different from where we were 10 years ago. We have data and research. Today, we get great, predictable outcomes and it’s still very personalized.” For patients considering surgery, Dr. Aroche investigates a patient’s complaint of pain, conducts a thorough physical exam to find the source, and correlates those with imaging studies from X-rays and an MRI.
Back Pain Prevention Strategies
- Maintain a healthy diet throughout your lifetime.
- Get some exercise to build core muscles. This will help you stabilize the back.
- Know your limits as you age. “If you’re 50, you’re not 20 anymore,” says Dr. Aroche.