People with chronic back pain may have already tried an array of non-invasive pain management methods to dull the ache, including exercise, medications, physical therapy, hot and cold packs and other techniques. But many don’t know about three innovative non-surgical procedures that can radically increase the odds of longer-term relief, according to pain management specialist Brian A. Bannister, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center. With back pain affecting 80% of adults at some point in their lives, learning about this trio of procedures should be considered Back Pain Management 101, along with all the other conservative treatments used to keep up an active lifestyle in the midst of recurring back pain.
“Many people with lower back pain are aware how common the problem is, but don’t think to visit a health care provider who specifically treats patients dealing with it every day,” says Dr. Bannister. “That needs to change if they’re to avail themselves of the widest possible array of non-invasive treatments that might help them live their lives normally again, painlessly.”
Three effective back pain management procedures
What are these non-surgical procedures? Dr. Bannister explains:
- Epidural steroid injections: These injections deliver a long-lasting steroid and a local anesthetic into the epidural space in the spinal cord. The steroid cuts inflammation and irritation of the nerves and the anesthetic interrupts the transmission of pain signals. Epidural steroid injections are commonly used for many causes of back pain, including radiculitis (pain that radiates from an irritated spinal nerve root); compressed nerves in the neck or lower spine; degenerative disc disease; spinal stenosis; herniated discs; and sciatica.
- Radiofrequency nerve ablation: Also known as radiofrequency lesioning or neurotomy, this treatment uses a specialized device to block nerve signals in affected spinal areas, with relief lasting 3 to 18 months. Fluoroscopic x-rays allow the accurate placement of a special heated probe next to affected nerves. Radiofrequency nerve ablation is used to treat spinal arthritis; stenosis; facet arthritis; whiplash; and sprains and strains.
- Spinal cord stimulator: This procedure inserts electrical wires into the spinal canal to stimulate the spinal cord, producing electrical impulses that interfere with pain signal transmission to the brain. Painful spinal cord stimulation is then replaced with a more pleasant tingling sensation in areas where pain is usually felt. Spinal cord stimulation is done on patients whose previous spine surgery failed, or have severe nerve-related pain or numbness, or have neuropathic pain and surgery is not an option.
Tips and advantages to non-surgical procedures
All treatments have pros and cons, but this trio of non-surgical back pain management techniques boasts an impressive list of advantages, according to Dr. Bannister. Not only are they minimally invasive, but they require minimal or no blood loss, reduce the reliance on pain medications, and don’t involve removal of muscle or bone.
An additional benefit really stands out: The pain relief these procedures provide can help confirm a patient’s specific diagnosis – the initial cause of their back pain. Pinpointing the diagnosis can then help doctors decide what may eradicate the pain permanently.
“Many of these procedures take less than an hour to complete, and patients can go right back to work or other activities,” Dr. Bannister says. “From a quality of life aspect, these treatments are great. I’m hoping more chronic back pain sufferers learn more about them in order to take advantage of these benefits and get back to doing their favorite things without nagging pain.”