Non-Surgical Treatments

  • Medications. Depending on the type of back pain you have, your doctor might recommend the following:
    • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Topical pain relievers
    • Narcotics
    • Antidepressants
  • Acupuncture. This is moderately effective for chronic low back pain. It involves inserting thin needles into precise points   throughout the body and stimulating them (by twisting or passing a low-voltage electrical current through them),   which may cause the body to release naturally occurring painkilling chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin,   and acetylcholine.
  • Biofeedback. Involves attaching electrodes to the skin and using an electromyography machine that allows people to become   aware of and control their breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, and skin temperature; people regulate their   response to pain by using relaxation techniques.
  • Cognitive Therapy. Involves using relaxation and coping techniques to ease back pain involves using relaxation and coping   techniques to ease back pain
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Involves wearing a battery-powered device which places electrodes on the skin over the painful area that   generate electrical impulses designed to block or modify the perception of pain.
  • Physical therapy programs. Involves strengthening core muscle groups that support the low back, improve mobility and flexibility, and   promote proper positioning and posture are often used in combination with other interventions.
  • Spinal manipulation and spinal mobilization. These are approaches in which doctors of chiropractic care use their hands to mobilize, adjust, massage, or   stimulate the spine and the surrounding tissues. Manipulation involves a rapid movement over which the   individual has no control; mobilization involves slower adjustment movements. The techniques may provide small   to moderate short-term benefits in people with chronic low back pain but neither technique is appropriate when   a person has an underlying medical
  • Spinal Injections
    • Trigger point injections can relax knotted muscles (trigger points) that may contribute to back pain. An injection or series of injections of a local anesthetic and often a corticosteroid drug into the trigger point(s) can lessen or relieve pain.
    • Epidural steroid injections into the lumbar area of the back are given to treat low back pain and sciatica associated with inflammation. Pain relief associated with the injections tends to be temporary and the injections are not advised for long-term use.
    • Radio-frequency ablation involves inserting a fine needle into the area causing the pain through which an electrode is passed and heated to destroy nerve fibers that carry pain signals to the brain. Also called a rhizotomy, the procedure can relieve pain for several months.

Surgical and other procedures

Procedures used to treat back pain may include:

  • Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty for fractured vertebra are minimally invasive treatments to repair compression fractures of the vertebrae caused by osteoporosis. Vertebroplasty uses three-dimensional imaging to assist in guiding a fine needle through the skin into the vertebral body, the largest part of the vertebrae. A glue-like bone cement is then injected into the vertebral body space, which quickly hardens to stabilize and strengthen the bone and provide pain relief. In kyphoplasty, prior to injecting the bone cement, a special balloon is inserted and gently inflated to restore height to the vertebral structure and reduce spinal deformity.
  • Spinal laminectomy (also known as spinal decompression) is done when a narrowing of the spinal canal causes pain, numbness, or weakness. During the procedure, the lamina or bony walls of the vertebrae are removed, along with any bone spurs, to relieve pressure on the nerves.
  • Discectomy and microdiscectomy involve removing a herniated disc through an incision in the back (microdiscectomy uses a much smaller incision in the back and allows for a more rapid recovery). Laminectomy and discectomy are frequently performed together and the combination is one of the more common ways to remove pressure on a nerve root from a herniated disc or bone spur.
  • Foraminotomy is an operation that “cleans out” or enlarges the bony hole (foramen) where a nerve root exits the spinal canal. Bulging discs or joints thickened with age can narrow the space where the spinal nerve exits and press on the nerve. Small pieces of bone over the nerve are removed through a small slit, allowing the surgeon to cut away the blockage and relieve pressure on the nerve.
  • Nucleoplasty, also called plasma disc decompression (PDD), is a type of laser surgery that uses radio-frequency energy to treat people with low back pain associated with mildly herniated discs. Under x-ray guidance, a needle is inserted into the disc. A plasma laser device is then inserted into the needle and the tip is heated to 40-70 degrees Celsius, creating a field that vaporizes the tissue in the disc, reducing its size and relieving pressure on the nerves.
  • Radio-frequency denervation uses electrical impulses to interrupt nerve conduction (including pain signaling). Using x-ray guidance, a needle is inserted into a target area of nerves and the region is heated, which destroys part of the target nerves and offers temporary pain relief.
  • Spinal fusion is used to strengthen the spine and prevent painful movements in people with degenerative disc disease or spondylolisthesis (following laminectomy). The spinal disc between two or more vertebrae is removed and the adjacent vertebrae are “fused” by bone grafts and/or metal devices secured by screws. Spinal fusion may result in some loss of flexibility in the spine and requires a long recovery period to allow the bone grafts to grow and fuse the vertebrae together. Spinal fusion has been associated with an acceleration of disc degeneration at adjacent levels of the spine.
  • Artificial disc replacement is an alternative to spinal fusion for treating severely damaged discs. The procedure involves removing the disc and replacing it with a synthetic disc that helps restore height and movement between the vertebrae.
  • Interspinous spacers are small devices that are inserted into the spine to keep the spinal canal open and avoid pinching the nerves. It is used to treat people with spinal stenosis.

Implanted Nerve Stimulators

  • Spinal cord stimulation uses low-voltage electrical impulses from a small implanted device that is connected to a wire that runs along the spinal cord. The impulses are designed to block pain signals that are normally sent to the brain.
  • Dorsal root ganglion stimulation also involves electrical signals sent along a wire connected to a small device that is implanted into the lower back. It specifically targets the nerve fibers that transmit pain signals. The impulses are designed to replace pain signals with a less painful numbing or tingling sensation.
  • Peripheral nerve stimulation also uses a small implanted device and an electrode to generate and send electrical pulses that create a tingling sensation to provide pain relief.