Spinal injections versus surgery

GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) Back problems are among the most frequent complaints patients make to their doctors.

According to a National Health Survey, 8% of all adults suffer from 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 help prevent back pain from impacting your quality of life.

Chronic back pain can really disrupt daily activities due to its persistence.

It can affect patients when they have chronic back pain, regarding their relationship with family, what they can do for fun, or they can feel a sense of loss when they are unable to do the things they want to do because they hurt, Dr. Jennifer Martin said.

Dr. Jennifer Martin, a pain management physician, says it is 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 really didn’t think we’d ever get rid of back pain altogether once it became chronic. We are trying to reduce symptoms by 50% and improve 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, it may require surgery, it may benefit from surgery. If there isn’t significant narrowing, surgery isn’t an option, said Dr. Martin.

Surgery for back pain relief is really focused on nerve pain.

The layman’s version of pinched nerve surgery would involve cutting into the bone or disc, or both, to create a larger hole for the nerve. And that’s really the limit of surgeries that can unclog nerves.

Dr. Jennifer Martin, Pain Management Physician, Bon Secours St. Francis

For those who aren’t candidates for surgery or are simply hoping to avoid the operating room, spinal injections may be an option.

If we’re looking at acute back pain, like a herniated disc, we’re doing these treatment options while we wait and see if someone will heal that problem on their own. We’re just trying to provide symptomatic relief and a chronic situation. We’re just trying to provide symptomatic relief and a chronic situation, Dr. Martin said.

Spinal injections are less invasive than surgery, but the results are temporary and multiple treatments are often needed.

We can’t say how long these 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 just ease the pain for a few days or weeks, Dr. Martin said.

Typically, spinal surgery is only considered when other options such as spinal injections have not yielded results.

Unfortunately, even surgery is not 100% effective in eliminating back pain.

The hardest part with back surgery though is understanding that even surgery doesn’t fix the degenerative change. Patients still come out with arthritis and degenerative discs and therefore would likely still have back pain, said Dr. Martin.

Doctors say the goal with both surgical and nonsurgical options is to give patients more pain-free days than not.

Our goal is to help them feel good 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, medications, and braces are a few other options for treating chronic back pain.

To submit a health topic for our Ask the Expert series, click here.

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