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By: Susan White
Back pain is undoubtedly one of the most common conditions that sends people to a doctor or interrupts their work and regular activities. And while it is a leading cause of disability, back pain can be successfully treated and eliminated.
NorthShore Spine Center orthopaedic and spine surgeon Lukas Zebala, MD, an expert in spinal deformities and back pain, sees a steady stream of patients dealing with both acute and chronic back pain, the majority of whom do not need surgery.
Muscle strains and arthritis are among the most common causes for back pain and are typically treatable with a combination of rest, physical therapy and sometimes medication, explained Dr. Zebala.
“When patients come in with acute back pain, we like to treat them conservatively at first with anti-inflammatory medicine, rest, mobilization, stretching and core strengthening activities,” said Dr. Zebala.
If after two to three weeks these patients don’t respond to treatment or have a decrease in pain, a steroid injection can help further reduce inflammation and reduce pain, he said.
For patients who don’t respond to conservative treatment, bulging or ruptured disks or disk disease is often the culprit and can be treated with lumbar discectomy, a minimally invasive surgical procedure. Patients often wake up from the procedure and are immediately pain-free, said Dr. Zebala.
Spinal Stenosis, or a narrowing around the spinal sac is another common cause of back pain, particularly in people 65 and older. Their symptoms typically worsen with walking or standing for long periods of time, explained Dr. Zebala.
Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and is usually started with a conservative approach of therapy and possibly a spinal epidural for pain relief. For those with more severe spinal stenosis, a laminectomy—surgical procedure to enlarge the spinal canal and relieve pressure—is often recommended.
For people with more serious structural issues, like spinal instability or spondylolisthesis, surgery is recommended. “Many of these procedures can be done minimally invasively and we see very good results,” said Dr. Zebala.
Preventing back pain starts with maintaining a healthy weight and a regular exercise program, moving and strength training at least two to three times a week. Core strengthening work can help decrease stress in the lower back. Smoking is another known cause of disc degeneration, said Dr. Zebala, who encourages patients to quit smoking and adopt healthy habits to protect their backs.
The NorthShore Spine Center provides comprehensive, personalized treatment for patients. From the most advanced diagnostic imaging to specially trained physical therapists and expert physicians including surgeons like Dr. Zebala who perform innovative and minimally invasive procedures to correct all spinal conditions, the Spine Center offers convenient access and expert care.