Get Ahead of Back Pain

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The majority of back pain problems get better on their own, but orthopedic specialists say certain symptoms should never be ignored.

Progressive muscle weakness, numbness, fever, chills and weight loss can be a sign that something serious is happening within the musculoskeletal system. Delaying treatment could cause permanent nerve damage, weakness or disability.

“Someone should consider being evaluated for their pain when it’s lasted more than several weeks or if it’s affecting their strength or sensation,” said Mark B. Kerner, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and medical director at Bon Secours Spine Center. “If they’re feeling ill at the time or if something seems out of the ordinary, it’s never wrong to consider a medical evaluation. Most patients, however, don’t truly need surgery.”

Back pain affects millions of Americans every year. Low back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It’s also a leading contributor to missed work days.

Fortunately, conservative treatments help 80 percent of back pain patients feel better within 6 to 12 weeks. Conservative care varies for each person. It often includes physical therapy, specific exercises and using over-the-counter medications for pain relief.

When conservative treatment doesn’t help improve someone’s symptoms, further testing might be needed to determine what’s happening in the spine and whether surgery is needed. An orthopedic specialist may recommend diagnostic imaging such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI. Nerve conduction studies -- which stimulate a nerve at various places – help determine if a nerve is damaged. It can also help pinpoint an injury’s location.

There are two common types of pain-producing spinal problems that may require surgery:

Pinched nerve - A pinched nerve can cause pain that radiates down an arm or leg. Surgery frees the nerve.
Spinal instability - When the bones are worn away or injured, it can cause instability. As a result, there’s an inappropriate motion of the spine that causes pain.

If surgery is needed, orthopedic surgeons at Bon Secours use the most appropriate type of procedure to address the problem.
“We try to use the smallest surgery possible to get somebody well,” Kerner said.

More extensive surgery may be needed to avoid subsequent surgeries and to appropriately address a patient’s back problem.

Some of the most common back surgeries include:

• Spinal fusion to help immobilize damaged vertebrae and reduce pain.
• Laminectomy to alleviate pain associated with the lower back and legs.
• Discectomy for the removal of a herniated disc.

At Bon Secours, orthopedic specialists make it a priority to educate their patients, so they can make informed treatment decisions.

“We pride ourselves on trying to give our patients a lot of information about their problems,” Kerner said. “We treat them with honesty and truthfulness and explain to them what we know and don’t know about their back problems. We explain to them what’s been shown to work and what’s not been shown to work. We give them what’s been scientifically proven to give results and offer them the various choices that are out there and let them choose and make an educated decision about what type of treatments they would like.”