Who is at risk?

Back pain is one of the most common ailments, affecting an estimated eight out of 10 people.  Symptoms range from a dull ache to severe, debilitating pain.

While anyone might experience back pain, there are a number of factors that increase a person’s risk, including age, fitness level, occupation and cigarette smoking.

Causes of back pain

  • Trauma – Sprains, fractures and herniated discs account for a majority of injuries that result from an accident or fall.
  • Arthritis – Wear and tear can cause the protective surfaces on joints to wear down, allowing the bones (vertebrae) to rub together, causing pain and inflammation.
  • Scoliosis – Side-to-side curvature of the spine.
  • Spondylolysis/Spondylolisthesis – Occurs when stress factures weaken the bones (vertebrae) and they are no longer able to maintain proper position.
  • Spinal Stenosis – A narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Osteoporosis – A degenerative bone disease that causes the bones to become fragile and easily broken.
  • Other causes – Pregnancy, kidney stones, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, infection and tumors.

Diagnosing a back injury

In addition to a physical examination, your physician might order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • X-ray – Invisible electromagnetic energy beams are used to produce images of internal tissue, bones and organs onto film.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) – A non-invasive procedure that uses large magnets to produce detailed images of organs, bones and tissues within the body.
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT) – A non-invasive test that produces cross-sections of the body through the use of computer technology and x-rays.

Click here for information about St. Clair Hospital’s Medical Imaging services

Suggested questions to ask your doctor

While spine surgery can be performed by either an orthopedic surgeon or a neurosurgeon, be sure to consider asking him/her the following questions:

  • What will my treatment include?
  • Are you board certified? Click here for a listing of board certified orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons at St. Clair Hospital.
  • When will I be able to resume day-to-day activities?
  • How often will I need to follow-up with my surgeon?

Treatments for back injuries

The goal is to control the pain, promote healing and prevent complications.  Surgery is not uncommon but is not always needed.  Rest, ice, heat, physical therapy, and anti-inflammatory drugs are usually the first line of dense.  Back braces may also be used.

Surgical options may include…

  • Laminectomy – Removal of the lamina, a portion of the bone located on the back of the vertebrae. A portion of a herniated disc also might be removed, depending on the injury.
  • Spinal fusion – A procedure that joins together adjacent vertebrae using bone taken from another part of the body.  Metal implants are used to secure the vertebrae until new bone grows between them.
  • Kyphoplasty – Using x-ray images, a special balloon is inserted by tube through a small incision into the fractured vertebrae.  After the balloon is deflated, the void is filled by the surgeon’s choice of material.
  • Discectomy – A herniated disc is removed through a small incision.
  • Decompression – A traction-like treatment that stretches the spine to reduce pressure on spinal discs.
  • Vertebroplasty – Using x-ray images, quick-drying cement is inserted by tube through a small incision directly into the fractured vertebrae.

Physicians will consider a patient’s age, overall health, medical history, and the extent of his or her condition before choosing a treatment plan.

Patients should periodically visit their physician so he or she can monitor progress.

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