January 2, 2020
Clinical Contributors to this Story
Douglas Nowacki, M.D. contributes to topics such as Orthopedic Surgery.
Did you know that back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide, preventing many people from engaging in work and other everyday activities? According to the American Chiropractic Association, it’s true. Back pain is extremely common, and so are the sometimes-debilitating side effects.
Back pain can lead to:
- Shooting pain in the buttocks
- Shooting pain down the legs
- Numbness in the lower extremities
It’s no wonder so many turn to surgery. But as with any major surgery, spine surgery has potential risks, and you should explore non-surgical options first.
“Life-altering complications from spine surgery are rare, but because the risk is there, people tend to be afraid of it,” says Douglas Nowacki, M.D., a spine surgeon at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Bayshore Medical Center and Ocean Medical Center. “If spine surgery doesn’t help the patient at all, it’s likely because spine surgery wasn’t truly what they needed. You should never rush to the operating table.”
Non-surgical Options to Relieve Back Pain
If you are looking for options outside of surgery, there are several things you can try to help alleviate your back pain.
- Physical Therapy. With the help of a physical therapist, you can perform targeted exercises to build core strength and the lower back muscles. Dr. Nowacki recommends seeing a physical therapist for six weeks, followed by exercising at home every day for at least another six weeks. “This will only help if you do it daily,” he says. “Home exercise needs to be as common as brushing your teeth.”
- Weight loss. Losing weight can also help alleviate back pain. If parts of your spine are already arthritic, too much extra weight can become painful. Daily home exercises to build strength—and perhaps slim down—are key.
- Pain medication. Nowacki says it’s safe to treat your pain with non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, such as Aleve or Tylenol.
- Steroid injections. If physical therapy, daily exercise, weight loss and over-the-counter pain medications aren’t working, patients could consider an epidural steroid injection, which is an outpatient procedure performed while the patient is sedated. “Some patients get three to six months of pain relief, while others get only a few weeks,” Dr. Nowacki says. “It’s hard to predict when it will work, but it’s a great temporary fix before surgery.” However, patients should not receive injections more than three times a year.
What to Know Before Surgery
Before considering surgery, Dr. Nowacki recommends dedicating six months to a year to performing all of the non-operative options.
“If you’ve done at least six weeks of physical therapy, six weeks of daily at-home exercise and a couple of epidural injections, and you’re still in pain, it’s time to talk to a surgeon,” he says.
Learn how our orthopedic experts are committed to helping you maintain optimal health, get moving and live life to the fullest.
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.