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Conservative vs Surgical Care for Lower Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most insidious and debilitating conditions that we humans can experience. Unlike other body parts that you can avoid moving when they’re injured or hurting, when your back hurts there’s little you can do to avoid causing yourself pain: your back is what supports your body and is an integral part of almost every movement. Unless you’re lying still, there’s a good chance that you’re in agony.


If your familiarity with this level of pain is only an occasional thing, you’re probably comfortable with taking a few non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and resting until the bout passes. But if you’re one of those for whom back pain is a constant, you probably need to take more action. This brings you to the key question that most people with chronic back pain eventually confront: should you take a conservative approach to your condition, or do you need to take the leap into seeking surgical care?


The truth is that there is no single right answer to this question. The goal is always the same — to relieve pain — but the way of getting there depends on many variables, including how persistent and severe the pain is, what treatment approaches have already been tried, and what other bodily systems are being impacted by the condition. Every patient’s needs and priorities are different, so it’s important that you speak with a skilled and knowledgeable back practitioner who will take the time to examine you carefully as well as listen to your needs.


When patients speak of taking a conservative approach, they generally mean anything that does not involve an operation. There are several options that fall short of surgery that can still provide tremendous relief. These include:


  • A short period of rest
  • Heat or ice
  • Medication
  • Massage
  • Physical therapy
  • Injections of steroids
  • TENS unit treatments


Many people delay seeing a physician for their back pain because they are afraid of surgery. Not only do most doctors urge a conservative approach before considering an operation, but the surgical procedures that are offered for back pain are much less scary than they once were. Many operations can be accomplished with very small incisions, not only providing patients with relief from pain, but also with a very quick return to normal function


In many cases a conservative approach is enough to provide pain relief and prevent further injury by strengthening the involved area.


It is almost always a good idea to pursue a conservative approach before considering surgery, but there are some urgent situations, such as where bowel or bladder control has been lost or there is an obvious progression of weakness in the legs, where surgery is strongly advised for fear that the situation will worsen. Beyond those emergent situations, most physicians will encourage patients to consider their own tolerance for pain and their level of disability against their concerns or hesitation about undergoing an operation. There are many times when the fear of having surgery leads to a patient undergoing major surgery when earlier intervention could have been accomplished with a less invasive procedure.


To discuss your back pain and the options that are available to you, contact our office to set up an appointment today.