According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017, which looked at people in 195 countries around the world, back pain is the leading cause of disability, with women more likely to suffer with it than men. And both the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the American Chiropractic Association indicate that 80% of the US population will experience lower back pain at some point during their lives. That’s a lot of back pain.
At Apex Spine and Neurosurgery, with offices in Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia, our team of expert neurosurgeons takes back pain very seriously. They understand that many sources of back pain can be treated with at-home care, medication, and/or physical therapy, but when your pain becomes severe or unshakeable, you probably need a more advanced approach.
A brief look at the spine
Your spine contains three regions: cervical (upper/neck), thoracic (middle), and lumbar (lower). An adult spine typically consists of 33 vertebrae, which are small, connected bones. Each pair of moveable vertebrae is separated by a cushiony intervertebral disc. Hooked together, they form the spinal canal and protect the spinal cord running through it.
Muscles attaching to the bones serve as primary stabilizers of the bony structures and associated ligaments.
Hinge-like facet joints connect each vertebra to the one above it and the one below it, with four joints per vertebra. Each can move independently, but since they’re all connected, the spine can also move as a whole.
Five back pain conditions we can easily treat
Treatment for back pain depends heavily on the cause of the problem, with some conditions being easier to treat than others.
Here are five common back conditions that are definitely treatable.
1. Soft tissue injuries
Sprained ligaments and strained muscles are some of the most common back injuries. They can happen to any person at any age — even well-toned professional athletes. A common culprit is trying to lift heavy objects or lifting from your back instead of from your knees.
Most sprains and strains can be resolved with anti-inflammatory medications, rest, ice, and physical therapy to strengthen the tissues.
2. Degenerative disc disease (DDD)
DDD is a common cause of back pain as you age. The intervertebral discs begin to dry out and shrink, decreasing the space between the bones and possibly pressing on nearby spinal nerves. The discs can also get damaged from inflammation caused by normal wear-and-tear osteoarthritis or an injury.
When conservative treatments (medication, lifestyle changes, and physical therapy) aren’t effective at relieving your pain, we can try other options, including epidural corticosteroid shots, nerve blocks, and trigger point injections.
3. Herniated disc/sciatica
When the disc ruptures and the inner gel leaks out through the outer shell, it can press on nearby nerves. One of the most common conditions resulting from a herniated disc is sciatica, when the disc material impinges on the sciatic nerve in the lumbar spine. Pain can be localized in one spot or may travel (radiate) anywhere along the nerve’s path.
Again, our doctors start with conservative treatments, but if these fail to improve your situation, they may recommend a surgical intervention — such as a microdiscectomy (removing part of the disc), disc replacement, or spinal fusion — to address the underlying problem.
4. Spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis occurs when the area inside the spinal canal narrows, often in the lumbar section, impinging on nearby nerves and causing pain. The problem is most often caused by an underlying condition such as:
- A herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease
- Facet joint arthritis
- Bone spurs on the vertebrae
- Thickened ligaments
- A slipped vertebra
Again, we start with conservative treatments, including oral medications or epidural steroid injections.
If your pain persists, we may recommend a microdiscectomy to treat herniated or degenerated discs, bone spur removal, or a laminectomy to remove a small part of the vertebra, providing the nerves with additional space.
5. Osteoporosis or compression fractures
Compression fractures occur when the vertebrae are too weak to support normal body pressure, and they collapse. Even bending or sneezing can result in a compression fracture.
Most vertebral compression fractures stem from osteoporosis (low bone density) and occur in the thoracic spine. In addition to bone and pain medications, you may need to rest your spine and wear a brace. You may also need surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal cord, stabilize the spine, or realign the bones, if the fracture is severe.
We treat compression fractures with two minimally invasive procedures: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty. During vertebroplasty, your surgeon inserts a needle into the center of the collapsed vertebra and injects bone cement that hardens and stabilizes your spine. With kyphoplasty, they use a balloon to restore the vertebra’s normal height and shape, and then inject the cement.
If you’re having back pain, there’s no need to suffer — many conditions are very treatable. Give Apex Spine and Neurosurgery a call at either of our offices in Roswell and Alpharetta, Georgia, or book your consultation online today.