It seems like most people recoil at the very hint that their back pain might point to an injury or deformity of the spine. Due perhaps to the abundance of horror stories in circulation, many folks immediately assume that their back problems automatically point to painful spine surgeries that require months of recovery — if recovery is even on the table. The truth, however, is that many spine patients don’t require surgery to experience spinal rehabilitation. In fact, for some of the best neurosurgeons, surgery is only considered as a last resort after non-surgical treatments fail to yield the desired results. More back patients find significant relief from non-invasive options than you might realize, and many even experience full recovery of function and a pain-free existence. Let’s explore six non-surgical treatments that can be used to encourage spinal rehabilitation.
1. Physical Therapy
In a large number of cases, back and neck pain can be caused by weak muscles, bad posture or a combination of the two. In these situations, your doctor may recommend physical therapy to strengthen muscles around the neck and back, as well as to retrain the body in proper posture and to promote a reduction in pain. A physical therapy regimen generally consists of two parts:
- Passive therapy, in which the therapist moves your muscles for the purpose of alleviating pain and encouraging motion
- Active exercise to strengthen the body. Your physical therapist may also assign you certain exercises at home.
Many patients find permanent relief after physical therapy combined with ongoing maintenance exercises to keep the muscles strong and the spine properly aligned.
2. Aquatic Therapy
For patients who may not respond well to traditional physical therapy or who need a low-impact alternative, your spine doctor may recommend aquatic therapy. The same basic goals apply as in physical therapy (i.e., pain relief, strengthening muscles), except that the warm water provides an added combination of comfort and physical resistance. In addition, the buoyancy of our bodies in water reduces the physical effect of gravity so that standing or stepping in the water is not as jarring to the bones and joints. Aquatic therapy is an ideal non-surgical treatment alternative for spine injuries, chronic back pain, arthritis and other forms of joint pain.
3. Spinal Braces
With certain spine conditions, the key to recovery and pain relief is not increased motion, but the temporary lack of motion. In cases like these, the doctor may recommend wearing a spinal brace to immobilize the affected part of the back or neck. Braces can assist with compression by relieving pressure from weak and injured vertebrae, giving these a chance to heal while alleviating pain. Braces may also be used in the gradual correction of spinal deformities, not unlike braces in the mouth serve to straighten teeth. Spinal braces can be made to immobilize either lower back, upper back or neck, and may be either rigid or flexible, depending on the purpose. In most cases, your doctor will not recommend wearing the brace 24/7 as staying immobile for too long can cause the muscles to weaken or atrophy. Nevertheless, you should always wear your brace exactly according to your doctor’s instructions.
4. EMG and Nerve Conduction Studies
Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies are non-invasive procedures that allow the spinal physician to test the nervous system and muscles in order to observe signs of damage. These tests administer mild electrical stimulation to various nerves in the body and measure the responses and isolate the areas of possible damage. Most commonly, the doctor will order one or more of these tests when the patient is experiencing weakness or numbness in part of the body. The test results will also provide useful information to help the doctor prescribe treatment to aid in recovery.
5. Massage Therapy
When back pain is exacerbated by tension and stressed muscles, massage therapy can provide significant relief, especially for those who suffer from lower back pain. The manipulation of muscles, skin, ligaments, and tendons can promote relaxation and improved blood flow, as well as alleviate any muscle spasms that may be occurring. Patients who undergo massage therapy often report reduced depression, as well. In many cases, the doctor may recommend massage therapy as a supplement to other forms of treatment.
This ancient holistic practice has seen a resurgence in popularity over the past couple of decades. Acupuncture involves strategically inserting small needles at specific points in the body, thereby activating a number of biological functions that can reduce pain and promote healing. There is evidence to suggest that acupuncture can stimulate the release of natural opioids in the body to alleviate pain. In addition, the body’s responses to acupuncture can accelerate healing and improve immune function. If you are experiencing back or neck pain, don’t assume surgery is your only option.
At Polaris Spine & Neurosurgery Center, we are dedicated to exhausting all non-surgical treatment alternatives for spinal rehabilitation before recommending any type of surgical procedure. To learn more, call us today at 404-256-2633.