While spine surgery may be the right option for certain patients, others feel that they will do almost anything to avoid surgery. If avoiding surgery is an preference for you, it's worth exploring some of the nonsurgical treatments that can help you postpone or avoid surgery.
The following highlights several treatment options—this is by no means an exhaustive list. Visit our Treatment Health Center for extensive information of treatment options for each spinal condition.
Delivering electrical stimulation through the skin
Electricity has been used to treat pain for over 100 years. Research has shown that electricity can reduce both acute and chronic pain.
One type of electrical stimulation available delivers the electricity directly to the deeper tissues near the spine (muscles, ligaments, tendons) through several needle electrodes. This is known as percutaneous neuromodulation therapy. The placement of the needle electrodes is designed to reach the specific nerve pathways that may be impacting the pain. The theory is that this type of electrical stimulation helps curtail the central nervous system hypersensitivity that leads to chronic pain.
Reducing pressure and adding support with bracing
A special type of brace may help certain patients to better participate in their daily activities by reducing the pain and symptoms that make it difficult to function. This brace is a pneumatic vest, which uses pneumatic lifters to help take some of the weight off the lower spine and thereby decreasing the pressure on the lower back. Patients most likely to benefit from using this pneumatic vest are those who experience pain when standing or walking, but not when lying down.
Interrupting pain signals with a spinal cord stimulator
Spinal cord stimulators are small devices implanted under the skin in the low back that use electrical impulses to stop pain signals from reaching the brain. Although this treatment involves surgery to implant the device, the good news is newer technologies eliminate the need for frequent additional surgeries to replace the batteries in the stimulator; certain models contain batteries that can last 5 to 9 years before needing to be replaced.
Spinal cord stimulation seems to work best for patients:
- With nerve pain (burning, severe shooting pain and/or numbness or tingling)
- Chronic pain due to radiculopathy (like sciatica)
- Failed back surgery
Spinal cord stimulation is usually only considered after more traditional nonsurgical treatment options have been tried without success.
2 methods for breaking down scar tissue
There are many treatment options available for back pain caused by soft tissue problems. There are two relatively new approaches that are aimed at breaking down scar tissue and fibrous adhesions:
- The Graston Technique is a form of soft tissue mobilization that uses specifically designed stainless steel instruments to help identify and break down scar tissue. The majority of practitioners specializing in this technique are chiropractors, athletic trainers, physical therapists, or occupational therapists.
- Manipulation under anesthesia (MUA), is a noninvasive procedure increasingly offered for acute and chronic neck pain and back pain. Manipulation under anesthesia uses a combination of specific short lever manipulations, passive stretches, and specific articular and postural kinesthetic maneuvers in order to break up fibrous adhesions and scar tissue around the spine and surrounding tissue.
Easy and accessible pain relief with cold and heat therapy
When you're focusing on the latest advances in pain therapies, it may be easy to lose sight of treatments that you can do at any time in the comfort of your own home: heat therapy and ice/cold therapy.
Among other benefits, ice or cold packs help reduce inflammation and numb sore tissues, acting as an anesthetic for the painful area. Application of heat enlarges the blood vessels, which increases the flow of oxygen and healing nutrients to the injured area.
Importantly, ice and heat can help you deal with the discomfort and pain of physical therapy and exercise, helping improve your chances of completing this essential aspect of your recovery. Usually, a hot pack is used to warm up the muscles and soft tissues before starting exercise and stretching, and soothing ice packs or cold packs can be used to help the muscles and soft tissues calm down after exercise.
For a myriad of reasons, back surgery may not be the preferred option for your particular pain situation, or you may prefer to try more nonsurgical approaches to manage your pain before you consider surgery. Keep in mind that some conditions, such as a disc herniation, lend themselves to minimally invasive surgery. In cases like this, surgery may be the more helpful and effective treatment.
By increasing your understanding of the many nonsurgical treatments available for back pain, you may find one that really makes a difference in your pain level.