GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA)– Back problems are among patients’ most frequent complaints to their doctors.
According to a national health survey, 8% of all adults experience persistent or chronic back pain.
As part of our “Ask the Expert” series, in partnership with Bon Secours St. Francis, we spoke with a pain management physician about treatment options to keep back pain from impacting your quality of life.
Chronic back pain can really disrupt daily activities because of its persistence.
“It can affect patients when they have chronic back pain, as far as their relationship with their family, what they can do for fun, or they sort of may have a sense of loss when they are not able to do the things they want to do because they’re hurting,” said Dr. Jennifer Martin.
Dr. Jennifer Martin, a pain management physician, says it’s widespread.
Chronic back pain would be symptoms that have been present for more than three months.
About 16 million American adults suffer from it.
“We’re really not thinking that we’re ever going to totally get rid of the back pain, once it becomes chronic. We’re looking at hopefully decreasing symptoms by 50% and improving function.”Dr. Jennifer Martin, Pain Management Physician, Bon Secours St. Francis
That relief can come in one of two ways– surgical -or- non-surgical.
“If there is narrowing around the nerve roots, at some point, that might require surgery, might benefit from surgery. If there’s no significant narrowing, surgery is not an option,” said Dr. Martin.
Surgery to ease back pain is really focused on nerve pain.
“The layman’s version of surgery for pinched nerves would be cutting away bone or disc, or both, to make a bigger hole for the nerve. And that’s really the limitation of surgeries that they can un-pinch nerves.”Dr. Jennifer Martin, Pain Management Physician, Bon Secours St. Francis
For those who aren’t a candidate for surgery or simply hoping to avoid the operating room, spinal injections may be an option.
“If we’re looking at acute back pain, like a disc herniation, we’re doing these treatment options while we wait and see if someone will heal up that problem on their own. We’re just trying to give symptomatic relief and a chronic situation.’e just trying to give symptomatic relief and a chronic situation,” said Dr. Martin.
Spinal injections are less-invasive than surgery, but results are temporary and multiple treatments are often needed.
“We can’t say how long those things would be effective or how effective they might be. We might hit a home run and get months and months of relief or maybe we only help the pain for a few days or weeks,” said Dr. Martin.
Typically, spinal surgery is only considered when other options like spinal injections haven’t yielded results.
Unfortunately, even surgery is not 100% effective at eliminating back pain.
“The harder part though with back surgery is understanding that even surgery doesn’t fix the degenerative change. Patients still come out of that with arthritis and with degenerative disc and so they likely would still have back pain,” said Dr. Martin.
Doctors say the goal with both surgical and non-surgical options is to give patients more pain-free days than not.
“Our goal is to help them feel well enough to do some of the things they want to do,” said Dr. Martin.
In addition to spinal injections and surgery, Dr. Martin says physical therapy, medication, and braces are some other options for treating chronic back pain.
To submit a health topic for our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, click here.