The Middle Ground: Non-Invasive Treatments for Neck and Back Pain

It’s natural to want to avoid surgery. The idea of going under anesthesia and having somebody slice into you with a scalpel can be daunting, no matter how experienced, professional, and highly recommended they are. Fortunately, surgical procedures are generally one of the last options offered to patients suffering from neck and back pain. The first protocols offered are generally non-invasive treatments like medication, exercise, therapy and stretching, and if those don’t work, the next phase includes minimally invasive pain management techniques.

There are a wide range of minimally invasive pain management treatments available for decreasing or eliminating pain. Choosing the one that is right for you will depend upon your specific condition. Here are five of the most common treatments:

• Facet Joint Injections – You’re probably familiar with what your vertebrae are but you may not have heard of facets. They are the joints in between the vertebrae. You have cervical, thoracic and lumbar facet joints, and they are what lets you bend, flex and twist. Back pain is often caused by facet inflammation. When that happens, steroids and anesthetic medications can be injected into them. Doing so can make it more comfortable to undergo physical therapy. It can also help identify the exact source of pain.

• Epidural Injections – These are also injections of steroids and anesthetic. They are injected into the tissues surrounding the spine to alleviate pain.

• Selective Nerve Root Blocks – This procedure helps to identify the specific nerve that is the source of your pain, and then block the pain from recurring by numbing the offending nerve with an injection of anesthetic.

• Spinal Cord Stimulation – When nerves are causing pain, a small device can be implanted and programmed to interrupt the pain messages to the brain with light electrical jolts. When spinal cord stimulation is used, insulated wires are inserted into the space surrounding the spinal cord and attached to a small generator. Spinal cord stimulation is particularly helpful for patients who have already had spine surgery but who are still experiencing discomfort.

• Pain Pump Implant – This is another device that can be implanted into the spine, but instead of providing stimulation, it delivers a premeasured dose of pain medication directly into the cerebrospinal fluid. A thin tube is inserted into the area surrounding the spinal cord and a pump is implanted and attached. The physician places medication into a reservoir in the pump, which is refilled monthly. The medication is delivered on a regular basis, providing constant levels of pain medication which disrupts the pain signal to the brain. The medication is usually morphine, though others can also be used, including local anesthetics. This process allows for much lower doses of narcotics, as they are delivered on a regular basis directly to the site of the pain.

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