Spinal Conditions and How to Treat Them

The spine is a complicated structure of vertebrae, ligaments, and nerves that is prone to a variety of injuries and conditions. Maintaining a healthy, strong spine is crucial in order to prevent further worsening other injuries that may be associated with the vertebral column, and that can include many things. Below are a number of common spinal conditions that can develop overtime, and the proper forms of treatment for each.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Associated with spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease is a fairly normal part of aging. Minor injuries along with stressors in the back can gradually deteriorate the spinal discs over time. This causes instability within the column and compression of the nerves. The most effective forms of treatment for this disease are typically conservative rehabilitation and pain management courses. Deep tissue massages target spasms muscle tension that tends to build up over time, relieving pain, and stimulating the ligaments.

Herniated Disc

Any type of herniated, ruptured, bulging or slipped disc can be directly caused by an injury, repeated motion, or simply aging. Though physical rehabilitation and pain management are the most commonly chosen options for treatment, extreme cases may require surgery. Determining which form of treatment is best for you depends on the location of the herniated disc, the severity of the pain it’s causing, and any associated symptoms. Medications prescribed by doctors have seen success, along with physical therapy and manipulation like weight training.

Kyphosis

Typically found in older women, kyphosis is an exaggerated rounding of the spine as a result of degeneration or osteoporosis. However, when observed in younger patients, kyphosis is typically found to be a result of poor posture or developmental issues like Scheuermann’s disease. Severe cases of kyphosis may include fractures in the vertebrae, requiring a brace to correct the alignment and allow for proper healing to take place. Physical therapy and surgery are other common forms of treatment. Removing pressure from the nerves and spinal cord is key in treating kyphosis.

Sciatica

Irritation of the sciatic nerve, running from the lower back down each leg, is often caused by a tight piriformis muscle, herniated discs, stenosis, or tumors. Sciatica can be extremely painful in patients suffering from the condition, and surgery may be required in severe cases. Otherwise, anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy are the most common forms of treatment, like heating and cooling the surrounding muscles, or epidural steroid injections.

Scoliosis
This sideways curvature of the spine normally develops during puberty, over time as a result of arthritis, or as a birth defect during development in the womb. Most cases of scoliosis tend to be mild and easily treatable, but more extreme cases typically require surgery to insert rods, screws, and wires that straighten the spine over time. Physical therapy can stretch and strengthen back muscles to decrease curvature, but back braces and medical intervention of some sort is almost always required.

The Benefits of Spinal Surgery

According to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience lower back pain, and an estimated 80% of the United States population will endure some type of back problem at some point in their lives. For those people, finding the source of this pain is crucial in order to properly combat it, as well as prevent any future occurrences.

Back pain can be caused by poor habits or health including things like posture, improper exercise, and obesity, all of which put stress on the muscles of the vertebral column. However, spinal abnormalities can be categorized as either mechanical (mentioned above), or neurological. Neurological abnormalities of the spine involve nerve root pain, compression, or tumors. The treatment, regardless of the underlying causes, typically includes physical therapy, massages, or general medication in an attempt to relieve symptoms. In extreme cases, when standard remedies have failed, spinal surgery may be required.

If a patient is experiencing chronic pain and has a treatable spinal abnormality, surgery of the spine can be extremely beneficial. Minimally invasive techniques, which require very small incisions, cause significantly less damage to the surrounding tissue than standard operating procedures. Using a tubular retractor, surgeons are able to access the spine through the skin and soft tissue with a much smaller incision required than open surgery. This retractor holds the muscles open while the surgeon performs the necessary surgery with small tools that fit through the opening of the retractor, guided by fluoroscopy; a video of the spine projected on a screen throughout the process. Once completed, the tubular retractor is removed and the muscles are able to return to their original positions with minimal damage.

The benefits of this procedure include a faster recovery time by the patient, and much less pain following surgery. However, it’s important to note that minimally invasive techniques are not preferred for traumatic situations, tumors, or infections.

Once returning to full activity, patients are to follow a strict regimen to ensure proper recovery. Avoiding lifting heavy objects and bending or twisting at the waist is highly recommended to avoid undoing that which was done during the surgery. Working closely with a physical therapist to develop an efficient rehabilitation program should also be considered, with the ultimate goal to return to one’s daily activities without being restricted by back or neck pain.

Spinal surgery, while not always necessary, can greatly help in reducing or relieving a patient’s back pain. It is, however, important to understand that with benefits comes risks. Infections, blood clots, or herniated disks are possible reactions post back surgery, the odds of which vary depending on one’s health conditions.

For those with persistent back pain, talk to your doctor about the treatments available before you consider surgery. Though it can be extremely beneficial, it is not always suggested, as circumstances may differ. Should you choose to take that next step in relieving back pain, spinal surgery may also provide increased physical fitness, better mobility, and an overall improvement in mood; just some of the many betterments possible.