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March 20, 2007 > Back Pain? Learn About Your Treatment Options

Back Pain? Learn About Your Treatment Options

Back pain is one of our society's most common medical problems. In fact, according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), back pain affects an estimated eight out of 10 Americans at some point in their lives.

"Back pain can result from a variety of causes," says Dr. Jenny Multani, a neurosurgeon at Washington Hospital. "Most back pain seems to be due to muscle strain. Other common causes are injury or trauma, tumors, infection and degeneration of the spine that is commonly related to aging."

Multani will conduct a Health & Wellness seminar on "Treatment Options for Back Pain" on Tuesday, March 27 from 1 to 2 p.m. The free seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A & B, in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

Multani notes that the first step in treating back pain is to accurately diagnose the cause of the pain. "That includes doing a clinical evaluation and appropriate studies such as an MRI scan to detect such problems as slipped discs, narrowing of the spinal column or 'stenosis,' compression fractures from osteoporosis, or the presence of tumors," she says. "Once we know the source of the problem, we can plan the correct course of treatment."

For most patients, treatment begins with non-surgical options that are intended to reduce pain and inflammation. Treatment can include medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), corticosteroids and muscle relaxers. Other options might include physical treatments such as traction, chiropractic manipulation, therapeutic massage and acupuncture. Application of heat and cold packs, electrical muscle stimulation and ultrasound also may be beneficial.

"Some patients will benefit from 'trigger point' or spinal injections of anesthetics or steroids," Multani says. "These injections can be used to relieve pain caused by a number of conditions. In many cases, injections can reduce the pain and inflammation enough to make surgery unnecessary. In cases of chronic pain, spinal cord stimulators can be used."

Although exercise usually is not recommended for a patient suffering acute back pain, it can help ease chronic pain and perhaps reduce the risk of it returning.

"Regular exercise is very important for maintaining the strength of your back," Multani explains. "We advise patients to do stretching exercises, as well as exercises to strengthen the core muscles that support the spine. Swimming is the best exercise for people with back pain because it doesn't 'jar' the back the way a high-impact exercise such as jogging does. Exercise also helps you control your weight, which is important because obesity can be an indirect contributor to back pain."

In some cases, surgery may be the treatment of choice. "Surgery is absolutely indicated for people who are experiencing severe back pain accompanied by weakness in one or both legs and by loss of bowel or bladder control," Multani says. "Surgery also is an option for patients suffering chronic pain for which other treatments have failed and the condition is getting progressively worse.

"Back surgery techniques have improved significantly in recent years," she adds. "We now can perform minimally invasive procedures for surgeries such as discectomy and spinal fusion. These techniques, which require only very small incisions, are safer and result in better outcomes. At the end of the day, though, the key to good surgical outcomes lies in making sure the surgery is really needed in the first place."

To register to attend the "Treatment Options for Back Pain" seminar on Tuesday, March 27 from 1 to 2 p.m., please call the Health Connection hotline at (800) 963-7070.

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