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Kimberly Ford, Author at Atlanta Spine Clinic


Conyers office - Get directions

Decatur office- Get directions

Surgery Center - Get directions

McDonough office: - Get directions

Sandy Springs office: - Get directions

Make an Appointment

Or call: 678-369-6934

Send us an email

When Should Spine Surgery Be Your Next Step?

If you’ve already tried more conservative treatment options and still aren’t getting the relief you need, you’re likely considering spine surgery as your next step. 

Typically, back surgery procedures are reserved for debilitating pain and numbness experienced as a result of compressed nerves in the spinal column. Moreover, spine surgery is often a last-resort option. That being said, sometimes it is also the best option.

Invasive surgical procedures are always quite intimidating to consider. So we know that making a final decision can be difficult for suffering patients as well. 

Because of that, this post is going to take a look at two of the most common scenarios in which spine surgery should be your next step, and what procedures are available to help correct your condition. 

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative Disc Disease (better known as “DDD”) is an age-related infliction that weakens and deteriorates your intervertebral discs. These are the cartilage pads between your vertebrae that hold them together and absorb everyday shocks to the spine. The condition is commonly referred to as “arthritis of the spine.”

When these pads are weakened by the aging process, they are more susceptible to damage. That damage can cause pain and discomfort that typically worsens over time, and can be especially exacerbated by factors like genetics and personal habits. 

Symptoms of DDD

This condition affects the various spinal regions differently. Here are some of the most common symptoms those who suffer from Degenerative Disc Disease experience in each area:

  • For DDD in the cervical spine (neck region), we often see pinched or pressured nerves that manifest as pain and weakness in parts of the upper body (arms, for instance). 
  • In rare cases, DDD can form in the thoracic region (upper-middle back) and lead to pain from the middle of the back down. 
  • Most commonly, DDD rears its head in the lumbar (lower back) region and can cause pain, numbness, and weakness in nearly every part of your lower extremities – hips, legs, and feet included. (Often it affects only one side of the body.)

Physical therapy has proven to minimize the symptoms of this disease early on. Treatment plans for DDD usually incorporate other non-surgical treatments, as well. 

This course of management is fine as long as there isn’t any major damage to the spine when the patient first addresses the condition and seems to be providing ample relief. 

However, when PT and other non-surgical treatments (such as injections) no longer help, it may be time to consider spinal fusion. 

Spinal Fusion for Degenerative Disc Disease

As the name would suggest, DDD is a degenerative condition and often leads to more serious damage as time passes. 

There are a number of treatments available to provide you with relief and slow degeneration, but by-and-large the current gold standard for DDD cases is spinal fusion. 

This surgical procedure joins two or more vertebrae together permanently. Here at Atlanta Spine Clinic, we always prefer the least invasive option, and that includes a minimally invasive spinal fusion.

This surgery requires a smaller incision, which can aid in faster recovery times and naturally reduces the already slight chances of infection. Still, there are some risks to the procedure…

Risks of Spinal Fusion Surgery

This surgery only addresses a single area of pain and does not restore mechanics. Because of this, you may be left with reduced mobility. Some patients experience permanent nerve damage (numbness), and in certain cases the bones don’t fuse completely.

Additionally, in rare cases, spinal fusion can accelerate the degeneration of adjacent areas, which can eventually lead to more surgeries.

Bottom line? This type of surgery is not recommended for everyone, and your spine surgeon can evaluate your specific situation to help you determine whether it’s the right option for you.

Herniated Discs in the Lumbar Spine

Between each pair of vertebrae lie your spinal discs. As you age, or due to injury, the tough outer wall of each disc can be weakened. When the gel-type fluid inside the disc ruptures a weak area in the disc wall, you have a herniated disc. 

Be aware that a herniated disc is different from another common condition, a bulging disc. A bulging disc indicates a weakened area of your disc wall, while a herniated disc is indicative of an actual rupture (usually a tear). 

It is important to see a spinal professional as soon as you experience pain that might be associated with pressure on your spinal nerves. Why? Because – as you might imagine – a bulging disc can be treated more easily than an actual hernia in the disc. 

So, what are the tell-tale symptoms?

Symptoms Indicating the Need for Disc Replacement Surgery

Not everyone experiences pain or discomfort upon herniating a disc. If your quality of life is not compromised, you may not need surgery. However, the following symptoms, when present and persistent, indicate a need to consider disc replacement surgery:

  • You experience marked numbness and/or weakness due to pressure on your nerves
  • You feel a level of pain that prevents you from managing normal daily activities
  • You have trouble standing or walking, or issues controlling your bladder or bowels 

Lumbar disc replacement surgery is usually only recommended once conservative treatments like PT, core stabilization, and steroid injections are not (or no longer) successful.

Lumbar Disc Replacement Surgery

In the past, herniated discs in the lumbar region were indicative of spinal fusion surgery. However, when you are proven to be a good candidate for this option, spinal surgeons now recommend lumbar disc replacement instead. 

This surgical procedure requires a small incision to remove the damaged disc, and then replacement with either a plastic or metal one. The new disc mimics natural movement and will stabilize your spine, allowing normal movement without pain.

Disc Replacement Isn’t an Option for Everyone

The primary advantages of disc replacement over vertebrae fusion are increased mobility and flexibility in the spine. That said, lumbar disc replacement is only applicable to a few certain vertebrae. 

Beyond this, there are minor risks of spinal cord fluid leaking and – very rarely – problems with a new disc are possible. Also be aware that in about five percent of cases, the replacement disc will herniate again in time.

Atlanta Spine Clinic Can Help When Spine Surgery Is Your Next Step  

These are two of the most common instances in which spinal surgery may be your best next step. As experts in the field of spine surgery, we believe it should always be a last resort. And when it is necessary, that it should be as minimally invasive as possible.  

Ultimately, choosing spine surgery is no one’s decision but yours. Weigh the benefits carefully against the risks and decide whether your current quality of life is suffering because the alternatives no longer work. 

If you have questions about any of the procedures we’ve described here, or need help determining whether spine surgery is the right choice for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Atlanta Spine Clinic. 

3 Ways to Protect Your Back

Ever had that sudden twinge of back pain – so small, yet so utterly debilitating? How about a slow burn in your low back? You chalk it up to “just being sore,” but wonder: is it normal for the soreness to last weeks – or months? 

Your spine and the surrounding bone and soft tissues form a complex system protecting some of your most vital nervous and circulatory functions. Any number of factors (lifestyle, weight, age, injury, and more) can impact this system. 

When this protective system breaks down, it can lead to pain. Luckily, there are measures you can take now to avoid issues later. Atlanta Spine Clinic says protecting your back can be as easy as one, two, three! 

#1: Mind Your Mother, and Sit (or Stand) Up Straight

She told you and told you that slouching was bad for you. Well, mom was right! Poor posture can turn into back pain before you know it, especially if you’re required to sit or stand for long periods. 

So, the first way to protect your back? Mind your mother, and sit (or stand) up straight! What can you do specifically?

Don’t Slump in Your Seat

Don’t lean over that keyboard. Sit back from this screen and straighten up nice and tall. Make the text bigger if you need to. Position your chair so your knees are aligned with your hips. Oh, and your desktop shouldn’t be higher than a couple of inches above your waist.

For those having difficulty maintaining this posture for long, roll up a towel (or drop a lumbar pillow into your Amazon cart) and wedge it between the chair and where your back seems to arch. Now, roll your shoulders back and relax. And keep those feet flat on the floor for better circulation. 

No Slouching While Standing, Either

The same as sitting, when you’re standing, don’t slump. Roll those shoulders back and lift your chin an inch or two. Take a deep breath and try to maintain that chest lift. It should provide an immediate sense of openness. 

When you’re required to stand for prolonged periods, try these tips:

  • Wear well-cushioned soles with wide-enough shoes.
  • Stand on rugs, carpet, or another softer surface whenever possible.
  • Bring your work up to where you are instead of slumping over your work surface. 
  • Resting one leg at a time on a stool can also help reduce stress on your back.

In either position, you should never stay in the same place for too long. Take frequent breaks, stand up or sit down, stretch, and change positions often. 

What it really takes to maintain good posture, however, is a strong core.   

#2: Strengthen and Stabilize Your Core Daily

Core strength has been a fitness buzzword for a number of years now. If you’ve been to a class, you probably spent up to an hour focused on abs – but there’s a lot more to your core than that. 

Keeping all the muscles and tendons throughout your abdomen (front, sides, and back) properly toned can ensure no single muscle group is overworked. 

Improving your core strength also makes efforts to maintain proper posture a lot easier. Furthermore, making sure your core is strong can even help prevent other joint injuries, particularly to your knees.

Some of the most common core exercises should be incorporated into your daily routine to maintain a strong, healthy back.

Strengthen Those Obliques with Seated Side Bends 

In a chair with feet flat on the floor, place one hand behind your head with the other reaching for the floor. Lean toward the side as if you were going to touch the floor. 

Return to an upright position and repeat on the other side. This tightens and strengthens your oblique muscles and stabilizes your spine. Add weight as your strength increases.

Let the Bridge Strengthen Your Lower Hips 

Lie flat on your back and bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Raise your hips toward the sky until you’ve made a straight diagonal line with your body. (Do not arch your back.) 

Inhale slowly for two counts, exhale slowly for two counts, then lower your hips back down to the floor. Repeat.

Playing Superman Is Super on Your Low Back 

Lying face down on the floor this time, stretch your arms out in front of your head. 

From here, raise all of your right extremities (head, shoulders, arms, legs) in tandem at least two inches off the ground. (Basically, pretend you’re flying like superman.) 

Hold this position until you’re tired. Then lower, rest, and repeat on the left. 

As you become stronger, you can try left and right (all extremities) at the same time. 

Leg Lifts Make Strong Lower Abs and Pelvic Muscles

Although there are a number of effective ways to perform leg lifts, all of them work generally the same way. You work your lower abdominal and pelvic muscles by lying flat on the floor with legs outstretched. Contract your abs and raise one or both legs no more than six inches from the floor and hold for a count of eight or longer. 

Ultimately, there are core strengthening and stabilization exercises appropriate for all fitness levels and ages. The best part is, there are all sorts of modifications to help protect your back while continuing to strengthen and stabilize. 

Talk to your spinal specialist for recommendations based on your personal needs.

#3: Supplement Your Exercise Routine with Professional PT

While you’re working on your core strength at home or in the gym and practicing good posture throughout your day, sometimes a little professional advice and assistance are all you need.

Physical therapy combines specific exercises, various stretches, and hands-on manipulation techniques that target areas that need more strength and stabilization. Physical therapists teach proper sitting, standing, and other movements that will help you maintain spinal alignment and alleviate unnecessary strain. 

Here at Atlanta Spine, we are surgical experts in treating the spine. At the same time, we are firm believers in pursuing non-surgical treatment whenever possible.

Even a minimal physical therapy plan spanning a few weeks can supplement your homecare routine tremendously. This extra care may be just what you need to protect your back from pain and injury over the long haul.

Get ahead of back pain. Incorporate these best practices into your daily routine. 

Even if you already suffer from pain and discomfort, it’s not too late. Let Atlanta Spine get you on track to a healthy and pain-free back! 

How to Treat Lower Back Pain

Lower back (or lumbar region) pain can occur due to a variety of reasons and can last anywhere from a few days or weeks to an indefinite period of time. 

Typically, discomfort lasts as long as it takes to heal from injury or eliminate the cause, but in some cases, it can be an indicator of a chronic condition. 

Each of the three most common causes of low back pain can usually be resolved through a combination of in-clinic and at-home treatments:

  • Lower back injuries
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic conditions

Most of the recommendations offered by the Atlanta Spine Clinic include some element of immediate relief and a goal for more long-term results. Often, that means tailoring treatment plans to include massage and exercise components. 

Pain from Lower Back Injuries

Muscle strains and sprains are the number one cause of pain in the lumbar region. The primary reason for this is that these are the muscles that support nearly the entire weight of your upper body – while also constantly moving, twisting, and bending throughout even normal daily activities.

While a strain refers to the abnormal or over-extension and/or tearing of muscle tissue itself, a sprain occurs when the ligaments connecting that muscle tissue to the bone are torn.

The good news is, the likelihood of making a full recovery is high. In fact, with appropriate treatment, nine out of 10 patients recover completely within 30 days. Until then, you have options for more immediate pain relief as well.

How Do I Relieve Lower Back Pain from Injuries?

The keys to minor lower back pain relief are staying active and gentle stretching. If that isn’t quite enough, you can try adding an over-the-counter oral or topical medication for a few days. When your pain seems to persist for more than a week, seek professional advice. 

Your spinal care specialist can provide an in-depth evaluation of the underlying cause(s) of your back pain, and will likely recommend a combination of in- and out-of-home treatment. Here are some of the most commonly prescribed treatment plan components:

Spinal Clinic Treatment: Pelvic Alignment and Core Stabilization

Pelvic alignment is one of the most effective ways to provide some immediate relief for your low back pain. It involves stretching out the vertebrae to relieve pain caused by compression on the nerves in your lower spine. 

You will also be provided with instructions for a number of at-home exercises to help strengthen all of your core muscles in order to provide the support your spinal column needs.

Massage Therapy: Hot Stone Massage

Between clinic visits and core strengthening, you may consider incorporating a hot stone massage regimen. To relieve lower back pain, a massage therapist will place or hold heated stones along your lower spine while using any number of Swedish massage techniques. 

Their warmth relaxes strained and overworked muscles, and sometimes the masseuse will alternate hot and cold stones to energize blood flow and reduce inflammation. 

If your spinal specialist discovers something more serious than a simple lower back strain or sprain, they may suggest you consider a minimally invasive procedure like injections or endoscopic surgery.  

Lower Back Pain During Pregnancy

Any number of contributing factors can leave you experiencing lower back pain while you’re pregnant. Three of the most common are: 

  • Shifting and loosening joints due to hormonal increases
  • Additional weight gain
  • The shift of your center of gravity (and thus your posture)

Most of the time these factors contribute to resulting sciatica compression and/or muscle strain and fatigue. While lower back pain is considered “normal” during pregnancy in the sense that it occurs often among expectant mothers, that doesn’t mean you should suffer through it. 

How Do I Relieve Lower Back Pain Related to Pregnancy?

Often the best options to help relieve your back pain during pregnancy are those you can manage at home with a partner or on your own. 

In-Home Treatment: Back Support and Regular Activity

Alternating ice packs and heating pads at home can relax tired, overworked low back muscles and reduce inflammation. Consider stretch belly braces and other support devices to help. 

To relieve pressure on your sciatica (and to maintain an open vena cava), sleep on your left side. Pregnancy pillows can help keep your hips aligned while you sleep, and regular exercises (walking is actually the best form) will allow your body to adjust to pelvic shifts as you grow. 

Massage Therapy: Prenatal Massage

The goals of prenatal massage are similar to normal body massage: relax tense muscles, promote circulation, and reduce inflammation and swelling. That being said, there are adjustments made to ensure the safety of you and your child. Certain positioning and pressure points are avoided as well.  

If you are generally healthy during pregnancy and continue to maintain your health throughout pregnancy and afterward, your lower back pain should minimize fairly soon after birth.

When your lower back aches and pains seem to persist beyond a couple of months after birth, it may be time to consult a spinal professional.  

Chronic Conditions Causing Lower Back Pain

Most of the time, lower back pain stems from temporary and curable circumstances, but there are a number of chronic conditions that patients are either born with or that develop over time.

A few you’ve likely heard of include:  

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Diabetes, various forms of arthritis, and other spinal infections
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Severe traumatic injury
  • Skeletal irregularities (like Scoliosis)
  • Spinal stenosis

These conditions, if addressed early, are often successfully managed with progressive treatment.

How Do I Relieve Lower Back Pain Caused by a Chronic Condition?

Because of the breadth of chronic conditions, there really aren’t any “general” treatment plans we suggest. When you are suffering from lower back pain that is linked to a chronic condition, your treatment plan should be highly specialized and tailored to you.

Degenerative Disc Disease Requires Progressive Treatment 

For example, pain management planning for a progressive condition like DDD will probably need periodic updating in order to address new issues as they arise. What starts as a physical therapy regimen and possible steroid injections could end in a minimally invasive spinal fusion.

Chronic Illnesses Often Call for a Holistic Approach

On the other hand, when your back pain is a symptom of a chronic illness like diabetes, your spinal specialist will work hand-in-hand with your other medical professionals (like your general practitioner, nutritionist, and physical therapist). 

They will develop a holistic approach to relieving your pain and other symptoms while working to improve the underlying condition.  

Even your exercise program will include exercises deemed safe in your particular circumstances. An exercise routine for DDD wouldn’t include deadlifts, for example, while someone suffering from fibromyalgia might require a less frequent routine than a diabetic.   

Welcome to Atlanta Spine

Atlanta Spine is a leading provider of pain management solutions in Georgia. Our mission is to bring pain relief through minimally-invasive solutions. Our method for this is to bring doctors with different specialties under one roof to provide a variety of treatment options ranging from physical therapy to surgery.

One of our solutions, regenerative stem cell therapy, offers an entirely new lifestyle to those who suffer from back pain. These treatment options don’t just hide pain; they actually treat the root of the problem, providing long-term results with minimally invasive procedures. By harvesting healthy stem cells from the patient and injecting them back into problem areas, the body can begin to heal itself.

Regenerative treatment can help stop pain resulting from your joints, disc issues and/or injuries. While every case is different, regenerative treatment is typically an outpatient procedure, so patients get to go home the same day. On average, it takes less than one month to go from initial consultation to recovery—giving patients more time to enjoy a new pain-free lifestyle!

Our office is dedicated to making sure every patient receives the ideal treatment to address his or her needs. During your free consultation, we will assess your specific case and come up with the best treatment plan for you. Find out if this treatment is right for you.