Is Neck or Back Surgery Always Necessary?

When an individual experiencing nagging neck or back pain, it's not uncommon for them to question whether they'll need surgical treatment. The good news is that the vast majority of those who are diagnosed with spinal conditions will not require surgery to find relief from their symptoms of pain and discomfort. The bad news is that it can take several weeks or months of conservative, nonsurgical treatment before relief is finally found.

Nonsurgical Treatments for Neck or Back Pain

Before utilizing any treatment (even those that are readily available without a prescription), individuals who are suffering from neck or back pain should consult their physicians first. In some cases, certain treatments could do an individual more harm than good. That said, doctor-recommended treatment regimens typically include one or more of the conservative treatment methods listed below.

Medication - Over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen block the body's production of the COX-1 and/or COX-2 enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for triggering the body's inflammatory response. Some patients may be unable to take NSAIDs - usually because of a drug allergy or cardiovascular condition - and may instead be advised to take an over-the-counter analgesic like acetaminophen. Should over-the-counter medications prove insufficient, a physician may prescribe narcotic pain relievers and/or muscle relaxants.

Thermotherapy and/or cryotherapy - More commonly known as hot/cold therapy, this type of treatment can provide relief in a number of ways. The warmth from a heating pad or warm shower can help to relieve muscle tension, which could be contributing to neck or back pain. Ice or a cold compress can numb away pain as well as reduce inflammation. Some patients may be advised to alternate between hot and cold therapy while others will be instructed to exclusively use one or the other.

Lifestyle changes - When appropriate, a physician may advise a patient to make certain lifestyle changes in order to relieve neck or back pain. Losing weight is very commonly recommended because excess body weight can plan unnecessary strain on the anatomical components of the spine. Becoming more physically active can also be of benefit to some patients, as it could help to strengthen the muscles in the neck and back to relieve some of the strain that is placed on the spine. Other lifestyle changes that are sometimes recommended include quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption.

Alternative therapies - Though not typically recommended by a physician, alternative therapies can help some patients control neck or back pain. Popular therapies include acupuncture (the insertion of tiny needles to scramble nerve signals); massage therapy; chiropractic manipulation; and the use of herbal supplements.

Surgery for Neck or Back Pain

If a patient receives little to no relief from conservative, nonsurgical treatment after several weeks or months, he or she may be advised to undergo surgery. In the past, a patient's only option for surgical treatment was open neck or back surgery. These operations were performed through a very large incision that typically dissected the musculature and other soft tissues in the neck, back, throat, or abdomen. They also required the complete or partial removal of spinal components and the subsequent fusion of one or more vertebrae. Patients faced lengthy and arduous rehabilitations and were at risk for failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS), or the continuation or worsening of symptoms following neck or back surgery.

Now, some patients may qualify for a minimally invasive spine procedure in lieu of open neck or back surgery. These procedures are performed on an outpatient basis through an incision that is typically less than one inch long. Most patients are able to resume their daily activities within two weeks of surgery.

To learn more, contact your physician or spine specialist.

Taylor Thomas is an experienced writer who has written for a number of notable publications. As a lifestyle expert, Mr. Thomas is able to able to offer advice and insight on a multitude of topics, including those pertaining to health (

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