Talking Health: The options for alleviating back pain are wide ranging

Blake Medical CenterAugust 9, 2011 

Back pain and disorders have been around since ... well, since there were humans. It has a lot to do with walking upright.

Hippocrates is credited with being the first to mention sciatica and low back pain as a problem sometime between 460-370 BC. But he really didn’t know what to do about it.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, disc problems were thought to be neoplasms or tumors up until around 1934 and were usually only discovered as the cause of the weakness and paralysis suffered by the patient at autopsy.

Thanks to modern neurosurgical knowledge and techniques, super-sophisticated operating suites, and gleaming spine care centers, we have much better options today.

An estimated 400,000 Americans, most over the age of 60, suffer from lumbar stenosis, one of the usual causes of low back pain and sciatica. This condition is a narrowing of the spinal canal (sometimes caused by arthritis, but with many other causes as well), which compresses the nerves traveling through the lower back into the legs.

Lumbar spinal stenosis may or may not produce symptoms, depending on the severity of the case.

The inflammation and irritation of the nerves cause the classic burning pain that travels from the lower back, down the backside into the leg.

While the majority of these suffering Americans can find some relief using conservative treatment, including home remedies and physical therapy, some need the skills of a neurosurgeon to escape pain that becomes chronic and debilitating.

Back surgery is usually only considered when back and leg pain limits normal activity and impairs the quality of life; sufferers have difficulty standing or sitting; medication and physical therapy are no longer effective; and the person is otherwise in reasonably good health.

Although a large percentage (up to 80 percent) of lumbar spinal stenosis patients report significant pain relief and diminished symptoms after surgery, there is no guarantee that surgery will help every individual. For those who are helped, the difference may be like a rebirth.

Neurosurgery is the medical specialty concerned with the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of disorders that affect the entire nervous system, including the spinal column, spinal cord, brain and peripheral nerves, according to Mosby’s Medical Dictionary.

August is National Neurosurgery Outreach Month, so if you or someone you know is suffering from pain or disability from sciatica, spinal stenosis, a disc disorder or a problem affecting any part of the nervous system, it may be a good idea to ask for a referral to a neurosurgeon.

For a free physician referral, to speak to a Registered Nurse about a health problem, or to learn about free seminars, classes and events, call Consult-A-Nurse at (888) 359-3552.

Talking Health, written by Blake Medical Center staff, runs every other week in Healthy Living. For more information, call (941) 798-6540.

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