Back Pain

Back problems bring thousands of Americans to their doctors every year. At East Cooper Medical Center in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, we believe there are many options for treating back pain. More conservative noninvasive treatments, including pain management and physical therapy, may be able to help improve results in patients with chronic back pain. If these options don’t work, then surgery may be the next step.

Traditionally, spine surgery has required invasive procedures resulting in large incisions, followed by a long stay in the hospital. More recently, minimally invasive surgery, also known as laparoscopic or endoscopic surgery, may be possible due to advancements in physician training, engineering and computer technology.

Minimally Invasive Back Surgery

At East Cooper Medical Center, we offer a minimally invasive spine surgery program that combines physician training, computer technology and advanced engineering to help improve the symptoms of back pain. Our surgeons are experts in minimally invasive spine surgery, a procedure that uses a tiny camera and long, thin surgical instruments inserted through very small incisions. The result is potentially less pain, shorter hospitalization and faster recovery time. Many of our patients here in the Lowcountry are able to go home the day of their surgery.

At East Cooper Medical Center, we offer the following treatment options:

  • Laparoscopic spinal fusion - corrects problems with the small bones of the spine (vertebrae). It essentially fuses together the painful vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone.
  • Micro-endoscopic disc repair
  • Reconstructive procedures
  • Spinal stenosis repair to relieve nerves pinching the nerve root
  • Treatments for the nerves affected in herniated discs

What Is Back Pain?

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems among Americans and can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain. It may be the result of an accident, a fall, lifting heaving objects, changes that happen in the spine as you age or family history of the condition. Other medical conditions that may cause back pain include arthritis, osteoporosis, kidney stones, infections or tumors.

The pain may be concentrated in one specific part or all over your back and may also spread to other areas, such as the buttocks, legs and abdomen.

Back pain is considered acute if the pain comes on suddenly and lasts from a few days to a few weeks. It becomes chronic if the pain lasts for more than three months.

Treatment depends on the source and symptoms of the pain, but you can do things to improve your health and lower your chance of developing chronic back pain.

Symptoms of back pain may come and go but you may feel stiffness in the morning when you wake up and it may get better as you move around. Seek medical attention if the pain does not go away after a few weeks with medication or if any of the following symptoms appear together with your back pain:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Trouble urinating
  • Weakness, pain or numbness in your legs
  • Fever
  • Unintended weight loss

What Are the Different Types of Back Surgery?

Doctors may choose from a range of options to treat back pain, such as over-the-counter medications, nonsurgical approaches or surgery. Some of the surgical treatments used to treat spinal conditions and disorders include the following:

  • Laminectomy – a surgery that doctors perform on patients with spinal stenosis by opening up the spinal column to remove the bony spurs and the bone walls of the vertebrae. This procedure may help remove the pressure on the nerves.
  • Discectomy and microdiscectomy – procedures used to remove part of a herniated disc to relieve pressure on a nerve root or the spinal canal.
  • Spinal fusion – a surgical treatment that involves joining two or more vertebrae in the spine that have slipped from their normal position. This surgery helps treat degenerative disc disease and spondylolisthesis.
  • Foraminotomy – a surgical procedure that cleans out and widens the area where the nerve roots leave the spinal cord to relieve the pressure on the nerves due to spinal stenosis.
  • Disc replacement – a surgical option used to replace a damaged disk with a synthetic one.
  • Laser surgery – a procedure that uses bursts of laser energy to reduce the size of a damaged disc and relieve pressure on the nerves.
  • Radiofrequency lesioning – a surgical treatment that blocks pain signals from entering the spinal cord.

When Should You Get Back Surgery?

The following conditions may be candidates for surgical spine treatment:

  • Herniated disk – a condition that is characterized by a bulging, protruding or ruptured disk that can occur anywhere along the spine but most often occurs in the lower back.
  • Spiral stenosis – a spine disorder usually caused by the normal wear-and-tear effects of aging that can lead to the narrowing of the spinal canal.
  • Spondylolisthesis - a condition where one of the bones in the spine, known as vertebra, slips out of position. It commonly occurs in the lower back but may also happen anywhere along the spine or at the back of the neck.
  • Vertebral fractures - a condition that can be the result of trauma or metastatic disease. In most cases, this condition may be the result of osteoporosis.
  • Degenerative disc disease - a condition that occurs when the normal architecture of the pads between each of the spinal discs are damaged as a person gets older.

How Can I Improve My Spine Health?

Part of taking good care of your spine is to know the several factors that may increase your chance of developing back pain. These factors may include the following:

  • Fitness level - back pain is more common among people with obesity whose weak back and stomach muscles may not properly support the spine. People who exercise too strenuously after being inactive for a while are equally prone to developing back pain.

    Tip: Reduce back pain with core-strengthening exercises and flexibility training at least twice a week. Make sure to talk to a health care professional before starting an exercise program.

  • Job-related risk factors - people with jobs that require heaving lifting, pushing, pulling or twisting can injure their back. People working behind a desk have a high risk of developing back pain especially if they have poor posture or sit all day in an uncomfortable chair.

    Tip: When lifting things, use your legs rather than your back. When sitting, try to keep your knees and hips level and keep your feet flat on the floor. Make sure your elbows are at right-angles and that your forearms are horizontal if you are using a keyboard.

  • Age - Back pain worsens, particularly after you turn 45.

    Tip: Include calcium and vitamin D in your diet for bone health. The earlier you incorporate these vitamins in your diet, the better.

  • Family history - Genes play a big role in some disorders that cause back pain.

    Tip: Avoid activities that increase your risk for back pain including having a sedentary lifestyle and smoking. Having a stressful job, depression and anxiety may also influence your spine.

If your back pain doesn't improve after a few weeks or if you have back pain following an injury, seek medical attention immediately. Speak with one of our orthopedic specialists at East Cooper Medical Center in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina to learn more about the possible causes of your back pain and the treatment options suited for your unique needs. Please do not delay care.

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