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Blog - Atlanta Spine Clinic

Locations

Decatur - Get directions

Conyers - Get directions

Surgery Center - Get directions

McDonough - Get directions

Make an Appointment

Or call: 678-369-6934

Send us an email

What Causes Bone Spurs to Form?

Despite their painful-sounding name, most bone spurs actually don’t cause any symptoms or pain. In many cases, you might not even know you have any until an x-ray for an unrelated condition reveals them. 

However, when a bone spur does begin to disrupt the surrounding tissue, it can cause significant pain and loss of mobility. If you’ve begun to experience joint stiffness or weakness in your limbs, bone spurs could be to blame. 

Once they are diagnosed, there are a number of treatment options that can be used to alleviate the symptoms and improve your quality of life. 

What are Bone Spurs and What Causes Them?

A bone spur, also known as an osteophyte, is a smooth, hard bump of extra bone that slowly forms on the ends of bones. Their formation is much more common after age 60, but younger adults can also experience them in some cases. 

Bone spurs most commonly occur at joints, where two bones meet. They are most often caused by inflammation to that area. For example, due to osteoarthritis or tendonitis. 

Chronic inflammation at the joint stimulates osteoblasts, the cells that form new bone tissue, to deposit bone tissue in that area, eventually leading to a bony projection, or bone spur. 

In rare cases, they can occur due to congenital conditions that you’re born with. For example, an osteochondroma.

Common Locations for Bone Spurs

Bone spurs most commonly form around the joints, where two bones meet. This can happen anywhere in the body, but they are most common in your: 

  • Hands
  • Feet
  • Shoulders
  • Spine
  • Neck
  • Hips
  • Knees

Generally, inflammation in the joint or surrounding connective tissue (tendons and ligaments) in these areas causes bone spurs to pop up. 

Bone Spur Signs and Symptoms

Most bone spurs take many years to form, and — as mentioned above — you might not ever experience symptoms. However, if the spurs begin to rub against your bones or nerves, you could feel pain or stiffness in the area. 

The exact symptoms you’ll experience depend on the location of the bone spur:

Shoulders

Your shoulder joint is able to move in many different directions due to its complex structure. This also invites formation of bone spurs, which could cause pain, stiffness, and weakness in your shoulder. 

Spine

Bone spurs in the spine usually form between the vertebrae. This can cause stiffness and pain in the back. If the nerves encased by the spinal column are affected, spinal spurs can also cause radiating pain, weakness, or tingling into the limbs. 

Neck

Bone spurs in the neck, or cervical spine, commonly form between vertebrae. This can result in aching or dull pain in the neck, which can worsen with activity. You could also experience headaches, reduced mobility, or radiating pain into your arm.

Hands

Spurs that form in the joints of the fingers are easier to see than in many other locations. You might notice that the joints in your fingers are knobby, and begin to experience stiffness, swelling, and pain at the affected joints. 

Feet

Bone spurs in the feet form on the heel, and can cause severe symptoms, such as a sharp pain when you first stand up in the morning, and a dull ache in the heel through the rest of the day. You might also be able to see a small, bony protrusion under the heel. 

Hips

Hip bone spurs can make it painful to move your hip, although you might actually experience the pain in the knee. Depending on their location on the joint, hip spurs can also reduce your hip’s range of motion.

Knees

The most common symptom of bone spurs in the knee is pain when you extend and bend your knee. 

Risk Factors and Underlying Conditions That Cause Bone Spurs

A number of underlying conditions can cause spur formation: 

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is by far the most common cause of bone spurs in any location in the body. This is arthritis caused by long-term wear and tear on the joints. It’s most common in adults over the age of 60, but can occur earlier if a joint has been damaged by repetitive use.

Autoimmune Disorders

Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and lupus can also cause bone spurs. In these conditions, spurs still tend to become more common with age, but can pop up in younger adults. 

Acute Injury

Spurs can also form after a joint or tendon is injured, such as in a sports injury or auto accident. The natural healing process for these injuries can sometimes stimulate excess bone growth as the body attempts to heal.

Other risk factors for bone spurs include: 

  • Overuse — for example frequent running, dancing, or horseback riding over a long period of time
  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Diet, especially if you have certain food allergies and continue to eat these foods
  • Obesity
  • Narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis)
  • Degenerative disc disease

Bone Spur Treatment Options

The approach to treatment for bone spurs will depend on the severity of the spur, the severity of the symptoms, and the affected joint.

Conservative treatment options such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and injections can help alleviate the pain and loss of mobility associated with bone spurs, and also decrease the underlying inflammation.

In severe cases, spurs can be removed through surgical procedures. This treatment option is more invasive, so is most commonly for severe cases where other treatment options haven’t been effective. 

If you are experiencing pain or stiffness that you think could be caused by a bone spur today, contact us to schedule an appointment with Dr. Bhatti at Atlanta Spine. Our team will identify the root cause of your pain and develop a treatment plan to improve your quality of life. 

How Do You Know If You Have a Pinched Nerve?

When compressed, nerves send signals to the brain that could result in pain. “Compressed” nerves are more commonly known as pinched nerves. It only takes a slight change in the configuration of your nerves to cause a significant amount of pain or discomfort.

If you find yourself in sudden pain or discomfort, especially if this pain radiates down a limb, it’s possible that you’re suffering from this issue. 

But how do you know?

We’ve put together a guide covering what a pinched nerve is, how to know if you have one, and what your treatment options are. If you are in severe pain, or find that your symptoms don’t resolve within 2-3 weeks, we recommend seeking medical treatment. 

What Is a Pinched Nerve? 

A pinched nerve refers to any nerve that is under pressure. In the spine, nerve roots run through the vertebral column, and are surrounded by bone, cartilage, and soft tissue. Small changes in surrounding tissue can be enough to put pressure on the nerve and cause significant pain and discomfort. 

The nerves of your limbs (for example, your median nerve in your wrist) can also become pinched by local changes to the tissue, such as inflammation and swelling of the connective tissue. This is commonly referred to as carpal tunnel syndrome, and often results from repetitive work such as typing. 

Common Sites Where Nerves Can Become Compressed

Pinched nerves can occur anywhere in the body. 

The problem with a pinched nerve is that the pain or discomfort you feel will most likely not be where the nerve is actually under pressure. For example, if the impacted nerve is in your lumbar back area, it can send a false signal to the brain that your hip or leg is in pain. 

Most pinched nerves originate in the neck (cervical spine), upper middle back (thoracic spine), or lower back (lumbar region). Pinched nerves also commonly occur in the hand, elbow, and wrist. 

Signs and Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve

Some pinched nerves are chronic, and may worsen over time, while other pinched nerves occur suddenly, such as due to an injury or sudden herniation of a disc. This means that you could notice a gradual increase in pain and symptoms in the affected area, or that the onset of pain and symptoms could be sudden.

In general, a pinched nerve causes the following symptoms in the affected area: 

  • Muscle stiffness or weakness
  • Sore muscles 
  • Sharp, aching, or burning pain that could radiate down a limb or part of a limb
  • Tingling and numbness, which could radiate down the limb

The origin of the pinched nerve will determine the location of the pain and some of the symptoms: 

  • Cervical Spine: The pain could be in your neck, shoulder, or arm, and could radiate down the arm into the fingers. You could also have a stiff neck, and the pain and numbness could affect the arm and shoulder.
  • Thoracic spine: The pain could be localized to your chest. However, with chest pain, it’s always best to call a healthcare provider or go to your nearest emergency room, as this could also be due to a heart attack or underlying cardiac condition.
  • Lumbar spine: Pain in the back, hips, buttocks, and legs. You could also experience soreness and stiffness in these regions.
  • Median nerve: Pain or numbness and weakness in the fingers, hand, and elbow. The pain does not generally radiate further up the arm, and is not accompanied by neck soreness or stiffness. 

What Causes a Nerve to Become Compressed

In general, the symptoms of a pinched nerve are due to pressure that is placed on a nerve root in the spine or radiating nerve in the limbs, such as in the carpal tunnel. This can occur after even slight changes in the surrounding bone and cartilage tissue. 

Pinched nerves are frequently caused by one or more of the below contributing factors: 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory conditions
  • Normal aging that can cause spinal discs to flatten
  • Sudden accident or injury that causes a herniated disc, which collapses to place pressure on the nerve
  • Repetitive motion tasks, especially for compression of the median nerve
  • Diabetes, which can damage the nerves
  • Obesity or pregnancy, in which excess weight can compress nerves

Resolution and Treatment Options for a Pinched Nerve

In some cases, a pinched nerve can resolve on its own. The following at-home treatments can help:

  • Cold compresses in the affected area (i.e. the source of nerve compression; for example, the affected region of the spine)
  • Warm compresses to relieve muscle stiffness
  • Over-the-counter pain relief
  • Rest 

Again, if the pinched nerve does not resolve on its own in 2-3 weeks, or if the pain you’re experiencing is severe or debilitating, seek help from a medical professional.

At Atlanta Spine, we can identify the root cause of your pinched nerve and develop a treatment plan to relieve the pain and symptoms, as well as to realign your spine to prevent additional pinched nerves in the future. 

Depending on the cause of your pinched nerve, a variety of treatment options can be used: 

  • Pelvic alignment and core stabilization
  • Physical therapy
  • Prescribed home exercises and stretching
  • Ruptured or herniated disc treatment
  • Minimally invasive surgical approaches
  • Steroid injections to relieve inflammation and swelling at the site of injury
  • Disc replacement

The right course of treatment for your pinched nerve will depend on its root causes, and the severity of your injury. Schedule a consultation with Atlanta Spine Clinic to assess your pinched nerve and develop a treatment plan.

5 Important Questions To Ask About Sciatica Treatment

Maybe you’re worried that you may have sciatica, but you’re not sure. Or you have been diagnosed, but you don’t really know what’s next. Do you need sciatica treatment?

Dealing with sciatica can be frustrating and confusing. You want to get back to feeling like your normal self as soon as possible. But you also don’t want to dive into an expensive and invasive surgery that you might not even need without understanding your options.

That’s why you want to make sure you are being treated by a reputable medical professional. Someone who understands this potentially debilitating condition so that you are able to find the easiest and most straightforward path to the relief and healing you deserve.

From non-operative to surgical solutions, there are a number of sciatica treatment options out there. In this post, we’re going to take a look at five of the most important things to ask about in treatment for sciatica.

How Do I Know I Have Sciatica?

With sciatica treatment, the first thing to determine is whether you actually suffer from it or another similar condition. Sciatica is an irritation or pinching of the sciatic nerve located in your lower back, and there will be specific symptoms in your body that will indicate that you have it.

If you are suffering from sciatica, it will feel like a sharp pain down one leg and especially in the buttocks region. More specifically, it can feel like a tingling, pins and needles, or electric shock down the leg. Sciatica is usually in just one side of the body. 

If you feel you have sciatica, then you should be aware of the treatments available. Your best option is to try non-operative measures first. 

What Non-Operative Treatments Are Available?

There are three key treatments for sciatica that do not involve surgery. It is our goal to explore these options before recommending an operation. Patients with sciatica can benefit from physical therapy, pelvic alignment, and core stabilization. 

Physical therapy involves muscle building and increasing mobility through exercises and stretches. Pelvic alignment is done through chiropractic care and aligns as well as relieves pressure between the joint of the pelvis and hip. Core stabilization requires building muscles along the centerline of the body that support the lower back and hips.

Each one presents unique benefits to those who are suffering from sciatica. We also offer pain management if non-operative treatment is not completely successful and you do not wish to have surgery. An example of simple pain management you can do on your own is being an active walker and applying heat to the lower lumbar area of the spine.

This is not an exhaustive list and you are encouraged to ask your doctor about the many alternative therapies that can be used to treat an inflamed sciatic nerve.

When Do I Know Surgery Is Necessary?

If, after attempting non-surgical treatments, you still experience tingling, sharp pain, or a lack of mobility in your leg and buttocks that prevents you from living a productive life, then surgery is an important step to consider. You’ll know your condition is chronic if the pain persists for more than eight weeks despite alternative treatments.

Choosing surgery is not always a last resort, though. Sometimes, in severe cases, it is the first solution presented to a patient. While it’s typically important to try non-operative treatments, in some cases the doctor may determine that they are unlikely to work, and surgery is the best option.

Do not fear surgery. It is far more common than you realize, and we do this every day for people just like you.

Is Surgery Invasive or Complicated?

Many people are worried about a surgery being complicated, invasive, or involving a lengthy recovery time. Thankfully, surgery for sciatica can be very non-invasive when the latest technology and methods are used. 

There are several causes of sciatica that can be addressed with surgery, including a herniated disc, disc degeneration, and joint dysfunction. We are fortunate that most causes can be resolved with straightforward surgical procedures that require only a small incision in the back.

In all cases, we strive to keep surgery minimally invasive so that complete patient recovery is fast and certain. Using the latest techniques in spinal surgery practice means we can guarantee that our doctors will minimize the impact on your life and maximize the results for pain relief.

Will I Ever Get Back To Feeling Normal?

In cases of acute sciatica, recovery time with non-surgical methods is usually 4-6 weeks.  Depending on the cause, if your sciatica is chronic and has lasted for more than eight weeks, it could take longer to get back to feeling normal. 

Regardless, we highly recommend seeking out a physician as soon as possible. The sooner sciatica is treated, the better your chances of returning to your original state of being. One must remember that sciatic pain is only an indicator of an underlying cause that must be treated accordingly. As we mentioned above, non-operative choices exist to control, reduce or even eliminate the pain. 

We believe the outlook is good for this condition in most situations, but it is always best to act fast. Allow us to assess your condition by making an appointment now at ljo.3e2.myftpupload.com. We can recommend the best course of action and get you feeling like yourself again — without the pain and discomfort!

Your Back Is Hurting — Why?

Causes of back pain - doctor and spineBack pain is one of the most debilitating forms of discomfort. Your spine is at the center of your body, so if something goes wrong, you’re likely to be immobile for a while until it heals. 

However, not all back pain is made equal. You may heal faster — or slower — depending on the causes of your back pain. Knowing when you can wait out back pain on your own and when you should go to the doctor can save you months — or even years — of discomfort.

Some of the Most Common Causes of Back Pain

Herniated or Slipped Discs 

Your spine is made up of a collection of small bones known as vertebrae. Between your vertebrae, there are little disc-shaped cushions of soft tissue that allow you to flex and move your spine. Over time, these discs can wear down or move out of place. This is especially true if you do a lot of heavy lifting or other intensive back activity. 

Herniated and slipped discs often happen in the lower back, where your spine is most mobile. The pain is the result of nerves being compressed because the disc is no longer protecting them. Pain may also occur in the hip because of how the nerve is being pressed. If you suspect you have a slipped disc, you should reach out to a spinal care specialist right away. 

Discs can also bulge, which is a slightly less urgent problem than true herniation. Most of the time, a simple bulge won’t cause pain. Sometimes, though, the bulge can press on a nerve and cause shooting pains during movement.

Inflammation of the Sacroiliac Joint 

Towards the bottom of your spine, there’s a joint called the sacroiliac joint. This is the point where your pelvis and back connect. It’s not a very mobile joint, but it supports the entire weight of your upper body. 

When something goes wrong in the sacroiliac joint, it’s deeply painful. 

The sacroiliac joint can become inflamed for a number of reasons. Anything that affects your pelvic region can lead to inflammation there. Arthritis is one of the common causes of back pain, but so is pregnancy. If you notice lower back pain that’s primarily on one side of your body, or pain that extends into your legs, it may be caused by a sacroiliac joint problem.

Spinal Stenosis 

Older individuals are prone to a spine problem called spinal stenosis. What is it?

Over time, it’s possible for the spinal column to narrow. This slow narrowing puts extra pressure on the spine and the nerves alongside it. The narrowing is most likely to develop in the lower back and the neck — the more mobile parts of the spinal column. 

The pressure that spinal stenosis causes tends to lead to numbness and tingling in the back, legs, and shoulders. It may also involve a feeling of muscle weakness and pain as the stenosis continues. People over the age of 60 who notice tingling, numbness, or pain in their extremities should immediately reach out to a doctor to discover whether the cause is spinal stenosis or something more serious. 

Accidental Back Sprains and Strains

Back pain that can be traced back to an accident is most likely the result of a strain or sprain. There are many tendons, ligaments, and muscles along the spine that help support your body. Car accidents, falls, and even lifting or bending over improperly can lead to serious sprains of these supportive tissues. The result is acute back pain that gets better over time. 

A strain is an injury to a muscle or tendon. Strains are most likely to occur after an improper lift or otherwise overstressing the back. Sprains, on the other hand, are injuries to ligaments that usually occur after falls, twists, or impacts. Both of these types of injuries are best treated with rest and over-the-counter painkillers. 

If the pain doesn’t start to fade after a few days, then the problem may not be a simple strain or sprain. After all, accidents can cause more serious spinal injuries, too. If your pain remains or gets worse after a few days, you should reach out to a doctor to address whether the injury might be more serious. 

Spinal Fracture 

A spinal fracture is the cracking of one of the vertebrae in your back. Spinal fractures are a possible result of serious accidents or falls. Not all spinal fractures immediately result in paralysis, but many can lead to serious spinal cord damage if not treated.

Silent spinal fractures, or fractures that don’t immediately cause spinal cord damage, often present similarly to strains and sprains. Additionally, sprains and strains typically occur alongside the fracture, sometimes masking the symptoms.
The primary sign that you have actually fractured a vertebrae is sudden, acute back pain that does not fade. If you are struggling with back pain that won’t heal after an accident, then you should make an appointment to have your pain properly diagnosed. That can be the difference between paralysis and a pain-free life.

Back pain can affect all parts of your life. It can reduce your mobility, it can prevent you from doing your job, and it can seriously affect your quality of life. That’s why you should never hesitate to get your back pain properly treated.

If you’re suffering from back pain, contact us at the Atlanta Spine Clinic. We can help you understand the cause of your pain and how to treat it effectively. You deserve to have your life back — pain-free. We’re here to help you achieve exactly that.

Will Losing Weight Alleviate Your Back Pain? 

Back pain often lends itself to the creation of a vicious cycle. When people have back pain, they find themselves unwilling or unable to go about their everyday activities or exercise. These periods of “rest” often do more harm than good, and the back pain continues. This is why many experts recommend low-impact activities, like walking, to help heal from back pain. 

Unfortunately, these periods of rest and inactivity may also cause weight gain… and experts believe that weight gain may increase your risk of back pain. 

Which begs the question: will losing weight alleviate your back pain? 

It’s a straightforward question, but the answer isn’t so simple, despite many strong connections between back pain and being overweight. If you are concerned that your back pain may be connected to your weight, read on. 

Statistics about Weight Gain and Back Pain 

Reports from the CDC say that seven out of 10 Americans over the age of 20 are overweight. Seven out of 10 adults also experience low back pain at one point or another in their lifetime. 

Now, you don’t have to be overweight to experience back pain. And not every overweight person experiences back pain, either. But even beyond those two pretty damning stats above, a number of studies show that the two may be linked. 

It’s pretty simple, really. If you are overweight, you face a higher risk of:

  • Any musculoskeletal pain 
  • Joint pain
  • Fatigue 
  • Inability to complete everyday activities 

These symptoms, along with other postural changes in the body, can all contribute to different types of back pain. 

So, if you are overweight and concerned about back pain, it may be wise to check in with a specialist to assess your health. Your doctor may have different concerns depending on where you carry your weight. Patients who carry excess weight around their midsection, for example, face higher risk than others. A professional can help you identify areas where excess weight is being held and assess your risk of back pain, joint pain, and other symptoms. 

How Weight Gain May Cause Pain in Your Back

Why does the location of your excess weight matter when it comes to back pain? Because while weight gain doesn’t cause back pain in and of itself, it may cause various traumas or postures that lead to back pain. 

Excess weight around the stomach, for example, needs to be carried by the body. If an overweight person is not being cautious of their posture, their body may carry their weight by pulling the pelvis forward. This demands more work from the lower back. 

This work may only result in minor strain, but the problem could also become much more serious. In fact, this rearrangement of the low back may cause damage to the actual structure of the spine. This is why people who are overweight may experience a herniated disc, in which the disc bulges out of its spot between the vertebrae of the spine. 

If the disc comes out of its place, it could place pressure on the surrounding nerves. If the lumbar nerve is pinched, a patient may experience sciatica pain. 

As these changes occur, the body may try to reduce pain through inflammation. Unfortunately, excess inflammation can lead to other types of back pain, including ankylosing spondylitis and other forms of spinal arthritis. Persisting inflammation can cause lasting damage, including joint fusion and other damage. 

The longer a patient lives with excess weight and strains their back, the higher their risk for more permanent damage. Even if you are experiencing mild pain and are slightly overweight, it might be time to reassess your health and make some changes to alleviate the back pain. 

How to Lose Weight When Experiencing Pain in the Back

The vicious cycle of back pain includes an inability (or lack of desire) to exercise. Straining your back further can cause more damage. But continuing to rest will not help you lose weight or strengthen the muscles needed to realign your spine. 

If you have not been exercising regularly, start slow with low-impact activities. Walking around the block after meals can help to burn calories and increase your metabolism. Swimming uses every muscle in the body without putting high pressure on the joints. Lifting small weights is better than lifting no weights. 

Reach out to a professional as you begin this journey. If you have a herniated disc or sciatica pain, you may want to steer clear of certain exercises that will exacerbate your pain. A spine specialist may recommend treatments alongside your new exercise routine. 

Do not forget to ask about nutrition and making adjustments to your current diet, too. Exercise is just one piece of the health and wellness puzzle. An anti-inflammatory diet, for example, can help to reduce pain caused by ankylosing spondylitis or spinal arthritis. 

Will Weight Loss Alleviate Back Pain Forever?

Unfortunately, there is no one solution to alleviate back pain. Every case is different. While losing weight may take some pressure off of the pelvis and spine, other damage may have already been done. 

A herniated disc, for example, may not resume its proper place just because you lose some weight. Slimming down doesn’t always “unpinch” nerves. If your pelvis has permanently shifted due to excess weight, you may need to undergo treatment or therapy to realign it and take the strain off of your lower back. 

Bottom line? 

If you are overweight and experiencing back pain, you may find some relief as you start to lose weight. But consider other options. Be aware of your posture. Be aware of how your back feels as you engage in different levels of physical activity. Share your symptoms with a spine specialist who can help to assess your pain and help you take the next steps to living a pain-free life. 

Recovering from Back Surgery: What You Should Know

The success of your spinal treatment depends heavily on how well you adhere to your orthopedic surgeon’s recovery plan. While the earliest stages of recovering from back surgery involve heavy restrictions against bending, lifting, twisting — even driving — those first few days post-op look much different than just a few weeks (and especially a few months) later.

The closer you follow your personalized recommendations, the more likely you will experience dramatic reductions in pain and other associated symptoms. You should also see significant improvement in the ability to participate in day-to-day activities over time. Upon full recovery, most of Atlanta Spine Clinic’s patients are able to return to work and pre-surgery activities as normal. 

That said, it is important to maintain realistic expectations about what recovery looks like for you, how long it will take to get there, and what you need to do to ensure it happens.

What to Expect When Recovering from Back Surgery

Regardless of the type of back surgery you have, there are some basic first-aid maintenance and hygienic practice requirements that must be met in order to ensure your best recovery. 

Basic First-Aid Maintenance

Your surgeon will cover the exact protocol in watching, cleaning, and dressing your wound, but typically your initial bandage or tape will come off within the first week to 10 days after surgery. After that, most patients are allowed to remove the bandaging themselves. 

Signs of Infection

You may feel numbness, soreness, or mild pain around the incision site, and there may be a bit of swelling and redness. This is all normal. Keep the area clean and dry as prescribed by your doctor. Signs you’re looking for during your daily care routine are: 

  • Increased redness, swelling, or drainage of excess fluid
  • If the skin feels warm to the touch
  • Whether the incision appears to be reopening

These are all signals of infection, and you need to reach out to your surgeon immediately for advice. 

Advice Worth Repeating: DON’T SMOKE!

Smoking and using tobacco products significantly slows your body’s natural healing process. This can be especially troublesome for those recovering from more serious procedures — including fusions and grafts.

Pain Management

In addition to keeping the area clean and healthy, you may also need to manage varying levels of pain throughout the recovery process. That first prescription your surgeon writes at the hospital? Fill it immediately so you have something on hand. 

When you have an activity planned that might cause significant pain (physical therapy, for instance), take the medicine about 30 minutes prior to start time. 

Physical Activity

Once those two areas of recovery are addressed, it’s time to think about how physical activity may affect your recovery plan. You’re going to initially need to change how you do things. This includes but is not limited to: 

  • How long you sit or stand
  • The position(s) you sleep in
  • Whether and when you can resume sexual activity

Plan on needing physical assistance for nearly every task — even getting out of the bed, getting dressed, and using the restroom — at least in the beginning.

General Rules of Acceptable Physical Activity

Initially, there are very few activities you should be doing while recovering from back surgery. In good time though, a good rule of thumb is to limit yourself to activities that meet the following criteria: 

  • Activities that do not cause pain
  • Motions that do not jar the spine 
  • Movements that do not require extreme ranges of motion

Basically, if it doesn’t feel good on your back, you shouldn’t be doing it right now — or really ever. 

No Pain, No… Pain

This includes the kind of pain that doesn’t surface until a few hours to a few days later. Stay in tune with how your spine feels as you move through your day to ensure proper protection and care. 

Avoid Jarring the Spine

Depending on the location of your surgery site and severity of the condition, barred activities can range from simply riding in a car or walking to heavy running and jumping. 

Stay within a Safe Range of Motion

Note that when talking about an extreme range of motion, the word “extreme” can easily be within the confines of “normal” human range of motion right now. It depends on your personal circumstances and recovery needs.

Over time, your customized treatment plan may include walking up 1-2 miles a day and/or incorporate a physical therapy program. If you have specific questions about what you should or should not be doing while recovering from back surgery, contact your spinal clinic.

In the meantime, there are a few general tips for speedy healing that apply to every spine surgery patient in recovery.

Four Tips for Ensuring Your Best Back Surgery Recovery

The professionals at Atlanta Spine Clinic have treated thousands of patients suffering from debilitating back pain. The answer for many has been some type of minimally invasive surgery. 

From our vast pool of experience, we’ve developed a sense of what our patients have done to achieve a speedier, more successful recovery. 

Listen to Your Body

You had back surgery. This is a big deal. Your body is working hard to ensure the safety and well-being of one of the most vulnerable parts of your vital systems. Trust yourself. Honor your body’s fatigue. Take things slowly. Rest often. We promise it will help. 

Put Needless Worry on a Shelf

Oftentimes, we get calls from patients very early on in surgical recovery. Understandably, they are worried about pains or tingling sensations in unexpected places. They are afraid the surgery didn’t work, and that they went through the experience for nothing. 

Here’s the thing. This isn’t the same as getting Lasik, where you wake up the next morning with 20/20 vision. Keep calling. Keep asking. All of that is perfectly okay. It helps us keep a close watch on signs of real trouble. But we also want to say now — it takes time. Chances are, everything you’re feeling is normal. 

Ask for and Accept Offered Help

When you researched and planned for this surgery, we imagine you weren’t thinking you would go it alone. In fact, here at Atlanta Spine Clinic, we recommend at every step that you have a trusted network of family and friends to help. Use them. 

If a family member says they want to stay with you and take care of you, let them. If friends ask to bring food over or to help around your home, say yes! And when your doctor prescribes temporary assist devices like a cane or back brace, use them as prescribed.  

Stay the Course on Your Recovery

For the next few months, at least, you may experience good and not-so-good days. That is how recovering from back surgery feels. Remember, you have just come out of a procedure that, no matter how minimally invasive, required surgical manipulation of tissues that touch, house, and protect some of your most vital organs. 

Take care of yourself through recovery in order to maximize the benefits of such a huge decision as back surgery. By staying the course with your surgical professional’s recovery plan, and trusting your body’s internal process, you’re sure to get back to a sense of normalcy soon enough — you’ve already come this far! 

Six Types of Minimally Invasive Back Surgery and What They Treat

The notion of undergoing back surgery can be a frightening one. This makes sense especially for those who aren’t aware of the broad advances made in spinal treatment procedures in just a few short years. 

Spinal surgery today, more often than not, is a minimally invasive option that can treat a variety of different (and painful) conditions, and offers limited exposure and shorter recovery periods.   

In fact, there are six common back surgery procedures offered right here at Atlanta Spine Clinic. Learn more about them, and find out how you can tell whether this might be a treatment option for you. First, though, a bit on minimally invasive spine surgery in general.

What Is “Minimally Invasive” Spine Surgery?

Minimally invasive spine surgery (MIS) actually just refers to the techniques now used routinely for most back surgery procedures. Spinal professionals also refer to it as “endoscopic surgery” because it involves vastly smaller incisions to perform surgical procedures that used to require open back surgery. 

This is made possible in large part due to advancements in surgical instrument technology. Using specialized retractors, video instruments, and surgical equipment, we now have greater visibility through small incisions and are able to perform even the most complex treatments such as vertebrae fusion and spinal cord work. 

It is a new — and better — way for back surgeons to offer treatment to those suffering from chronic conditions and pain with reduced risk and a number of new benefits.

The Cascading Benefits of Endoscopic Spinal Procedures

All the benefits of endoscopic spinal procedures lead to a single overarching benefit — less trauma when fixing your back. Here are some of the specific reasons this is true:

Smaller Incision Site 

Usually, the incision site is around an inch in diameter. If you know someone who’s had back surgery in the past, you understand that many procedures previously called for nearly filleting a patient down the spine. No more.

Less Trauma to the Tissue 

Smaller incisions naturally mean less tissue being traumatized as surgeons navigate the length of the spine to perform the delicate and precise corrections our patients need. 

Lower Levels of Blood Loss

Less trauma to the tissue equates to less blood loss, too. When you lose blood during surgery, it can present a whole host of other issues entirely unrelated to the condition you’ve come in to correct. 

Reduced Down Time 

Smaller incision sites also mean fewer pain receptors are traumatized and there is less work for your body to do to heal. This means recovery time is accelerated overall (and scarring is reduced, too). 

These facts mean you can get back to your normal life faster. The cascading benefits of smaller incisions make it possible to perform procedures like herniated or bulging disc repairs, vertebrae fusions, and bone spur removal with much less risk and easier recovery.  

There are actually six common back surgery treatments available through minimally invasive methods today. 

Compression Fracture Repairs

Known as vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty, these procedures are options that allow repairs to be made on compression fractures commonly resulting from conditions related to osteoporosis. 

Essentially, the treatment requires a bone cement to be applied to the fractured area where it will harden, ultimately strengthening the vertebrae.  

Spinal Stenosis Decompression

When spinal stenosis is present, the spinal canal has been narrowed, usually by obstructions like bone spurs. This condition can result in pain or areas of numbness or weakness. 

The procedure to correct this issue is known as a spinal laminectomy or spinal decompression. Your surgeon’s goal is to open up the spinal column and free it up from any obstructions in order to release pressure on your nerves.

Herniated Disc Removal

Often when patients come in for conditions involving compressed nerves, a herniated disc is the culprit. So laminectomies (described above) are often performed in conjunction with what’s known as a discectomy. 

This is the medical term for the removal of a herniated disc pressing on nerve roots in the spinal column or on the spinal cord itself. 

Spinal Canal Enlargement

In some cases, a disc hasn’t actually become herniated but is simply “bulging” into the walls of your spinal canal. Also important to recognize, many patients experience a natural thickening of the vertebrae when compression is left untreated. This is your body’s attempt at providing your nerves with added protection. 

In either situation, your surgeon can enter the spinal canal endoscopically and enlarge the bony hole at the site of the affected nerve root to relieve pain and pressure on it.  

Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion

Spinal fusion procedures are used to relieve symptoms of a variety of painful conditions including, but not limited to:

  • Chronic neck and back pain
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Recurrent herniated discs
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal instability (like spondylolisthesis)
  • Traumatic fractures
  • Tumors and other infections

The procedure requires the removal of spinal discs between vertebrae and then fusing the two then-adjacent vertebrae with grafted bone or metal plates secured with screws. Spinal fusion surgery is typically used as a last resort as it requires a longer recovery period than other procedures in order for bone grafts to grow and fuse the bones together. 

Artificial Disc Replacement

When patients suffer severe damage to their discs, there is an alternative consideration to spinal fusion surgery for artificial disc replacement. The procedure is exactly what it sounds like. The damaged disc is removed and replaced with a synthetic one in order to restore both height and movement between your vertebrae.

Are You Considering Endoscopic Back Surgery?

Here at Atlanta Spine Clinic, no matter the level of invasiveness, we always use back surgery as a final option. However, when you’ve managed a chronic condition for years, and find that the current treatments available are no longer effective, you may want to consider your surgical options.

Contact us to schedule a consultation and let an experienced spinal specialist review your case. We will help you navigate the best options for your condition and health circumstances. 

And if it makes the most sense to move forward with back surgery, you’re in good hands with our renowned spine surgeon, an expert in endoscopic, minimally invasive spine surgery techniques! 

Neck Pain: Options for Treating It

Neck pain is more than just an annoyance. It’s a major cause of morbidity and disability in the U.S. and around the world. Research has found that severe neck pain can affect your physical, social, and psychological well-being.  

And neck pain is on the rise in the U.S. — particularly in those aged 20 and over. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that as many as one in three people experiences neck pain each year. That number is higher among women and the elderly.

Here’s the good news: there are a number of effective options for treating neck pain, depending on the severity of the issue. Determining the best treatment for neck pain, however, may depend on the cause and other factors. 

Below we have covered some basic information about treating neck pain, including causes, symptoms, treatment tips, and preventative measures. For advice specific to your situation, contact the Atlanta Spine Clinic.

What Is Neck Pain? 

So, what exactly is neck pain? It may seem self-explanatory, but there is more to neck pain than you might have realized. 

Essentially, your neck is composed of vertebrae that run through your torso up to your skull. Your neck supports your head and allows it to move using a series of bones, ligaments, and muscles. 

If your neck starts to hurt, it could be due to a number of injuries or strain caused to these series of bones, ligaments, and muscles. In the vast majority of cases, neck pain is a relatively minor problem that can be resolved with the right techniques within a week. However, there are types of neck pain that may require specific attention — and even surgery. 

What Is Neck Pain Caused By?

Neck pain can be caused by a number of incidents and behaviors, including: 

Poor posture

Poor posture may seem relatively harmless, but it’s actually one of the leading causes of neck pain these days. Hunching over your computer or smartphone and commuting for long periods of time can cause your neck muscles to strain and weaken.

Injury

Due to its composition, the neck is hurt very easily by external forces — particularly when it is forced into a sudden jerking movement, known as whiplash. 

Any movement that forces neck muscles and ligaments to extend beyond their range can cause neck pain. The most common causes are car collisions, trip-and-fall incidents, and even exercise. 

Heart attack

In some cases, neck pain may be a symptom of a heart attack. Note that it is often accompanied by symptoms like shortness of breath, vomiting, sweating, and jaw pain. 

If you experience neck pain in addition to any of the other symptoms, get to the emergency room immediately. 

Meningitis

This one is another medical emergency. With meningitis, the tissues around the brain and spine become inflamed. Symptoms include a sore neck, fever, and headache. Those who experience these symptoms should also seek immediate medical assistance.

Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition experienced by the elderly. It can cause pain and swelling in joints around the body — including the neck. 

Spinal stenosis

This is caused by the narrowing of the spinal column, which can place pressure on the spinal cords and nerves. Spinal stenosis often arises from conditions like arthritis. 

Herniated cervical disk

An injury or trauma can cause your cervical disk to protrude, resulting in additional pressure on the spine and nerves. This condition is known as a herniated disk, ruptured disk, or slipped disk.

Cervical radiculopathy

This involves inflammation or damage to a nerve root in the cervical spine. When this happens, it can cause your neurological functioning to change. 

This can result in symptoms like weakness, numbness, pain, and pins-and-needles, and may even impact your reflexes. 

In most cases, this goes away on its own. But if it does not, cervical radiculopathy can be degenerative, even leading to paralysis.

How Can You Relieve Neck Pain? 

Most neck pain can be relieved by less extreme measures. Treatments may include stretching, using ice and heat, taking pain relievers, wearing a neck collar, and practicing good sleeping habits.

However, severe neck pain may require more robust treatments — including surgical intervention. Generally speaking, there are three main reasons why someone might need neck surgery:

  1. Their nerve root needs to be decompressed.
  2. Their spinal cord needs to be decompressed.
  3. Their cervical spine needs to be stabilized.

If you fall into any of these categories, there are several possible surgeries that may be used to alleviate your pain depending on the specifics of your case.

Anterior cervical discectomy and cervical spinal fusion

This surgery involves making a small incision in the front of the neck to remove the problematic disk or bone spurs and then stabilizing the spine through spinal fusion (i.e., joining two vertebrae together). 

It is often used in serious cases of cervical radiculopathy.

Artificial disk replacement

Rather than using spinal fusion, ADR removes the disk that is causing the problems and replaces it with an artificial disk. 

Unlike fusing two vertebrae together, ADR can help recipients to maintain a higher level of mobility.

Laminectomy

In this procedure, laminae (the bony plates on your vertebrae that protect your spinal cord) are removed to alleviate the pressure on your nerves and spinal cord. Bone spurs and herniated disk may also be removed.

Laminoplasty

This one is sort of the opposite of a laminectomy. Instead of removing laminae, the surgeon here opens you up to rebuild vertebral laminae in an effort to enlarge your spinal canal and make more room for your spinal cord. Most commonly used for those with spinal stenosis.

Get Help from Specialists in Pain Management

If you are experiencing severe neck pain in the Atlanta area, we encourage you to get in touch with Atlanta Spine Clinic. We’ve helped countless Atlanta clients with neck pain and other issues — we can help you, too. 

Worried You Have a Pinched Nerve in Your Back? What You Need to Know

Pinched nerves can occur in nearly any part of the human body. It is the term used to describe when compression — too much pressure — is placed on any nerve by the bodily tissues surrounding it.

Sometimes the tissue is swollen muscles or tendons; other times it is pressure from bone or cartilage tissues. Carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance, involves a pinched nerve in the hand or wrist due to swollen tendons, enlarged bone tissue, or degenerated ligaments.

Below, we’re going to cover the causes and symptoms of pinched nerves to help you determine whether this is a problem you are experiencing. Then we’ll share some of the most common at-home, in-office, and surgical treatment options.

Causes of a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

Typically when we envision the onset of a pinched nerve in our back, it’s easy to conjure images of a quick throw-out — you bend over and suddenly can’t get up. While sudden compression can occur from trauma or injury, more often we see a more gradual compression over time. 

Stenosis 

Stenosis is a narrowing of the nerve passages in the spine caused by a bony overgrowth or bone spurs. A narrowed central canal is known as central stenosis, and spaces where spinal nerves exit from the main canal that has become narrow are classified as foraminal or lateral stenosis.

Sciatica 

The largest bundle of nerves outside the central spinal canal is known as your sciatica. It originates in the pelvis and travels down the leg. It is made up of multiple spinal nerves. Issues arise from the nerve being pinched by the piriformis muscle (located behind the larger glute in your buttock) which is responsible for hip rotation and your ability to turn your legs and feet outward.

Herniated Disc

When normal wear and tear create defects to the body parts that protect your vertebrae, many times it leads to bulging and herniated discs. Herniation can bring about pain when nerves become trapped from bulging or torn disc sacs. 

Arthritis in the Spine

As with arthritis in other areas of the body, the condition can cause swelling, which in turn can render your spinal nerves compressed and aching. Rheumatoid Arthritis is a particularly common form that affects the back. 

Through the natural process of aging, there are a number of conditions that can develop due to changes and degeneration in bone and tissue structures and positioning. For this reason, we see most pinched nerves first appear among people between 30 and 50. 

Symptoms aren’t always debilitating when they first become noticeable, however. 

Sure Signs and Symptoms of a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

Our bodies are incredibly adaptable to change — and pain — as we age. Because of this, we don’t always initially recognize the symptoms of pinched or compressed spinal nerves. 

That being said, when you pay attention to your body and understand the symptoms of compression, you are more likely to identify (and treat) a pinched nerve before you ever reach the point of throwing out your back.

Some of the sensations you should be on the lookout for include the following: 

  • Sharp pain (or burning or aching) or a pins-and-needles sensation anywhere in the body. When it occurs from the waist down, this is likely a sign of sciatica problems.
  • Sharp pain and muscle spasms can also signal a pinched nerve in the area just above where you’re noticing the symptoms. 
  • Muscle weakness, balance issues, or diminished reflexes can also indicate nerve compression in the area. 

Note that pinched nerve-related problems typically worsen while sleeping. Also remember, the longer you wait to address a potential problem with a pinched nerve, the more difficult it becomes to ensure no long-term damage.

When you initially begin to notice symptoms consistent with a pinched nerve, there are a number of ways you can address it right at home. 

Pain Relief at Home for a Pinched Back Nerve

While the Atlanta Spine Clinic always recommends consulting with your doctor about any plan for self-care you might be considering, there are a number of things you can do on your own early on. 

Move Your Body

As with anything related to maintaining your good health, exercise is often key to recovering from a pinched nerve. Depending on the cause of compression, certain exercises may be better than others. But generally, a prescribed routine of moderate exercises like walking and light strength training can help. Exercise is known to reduce inflammation, improve circulation, and decompress those joints and passages surrounding your nerves.

Make Time for the Yoga Mat

There are a number of specific stretches that provide known benefits for various pinched nerves along the spine. This one is very important to discuss with your doctor since improper stretching can actually worsen symptoms. The most commonly employed techniques include deep stretches of the hamstrings and glutes.   

Modify Your Sleep Positions

Another issue that often exacerbates a pinched nerve situation is the way that you sleep. Your position may aggravate nerve pain symptoms. Talk with your doctor about proper sleeping positions, and what kind of aids might assist with reducing your discomfort. It may be as simple as positioning a pillow between or under your legs.

Properly Recuperate

Certain activities and some seated positions can actually increase nerve pain. When you talk to your doctor about in-home treatment options, he or she may recommend a few days rest to reduce your symptoms. Often the application of ice and heat packs in 20-minute intervals can help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and eliminate muscle spasms.

Seeing Your Doctor About a Pinched Nerve in Your Back

Should at-home treatment methods prove ineffective in relieving your pain, consider heading in to see your doctor about the situation. When symptoms seem to persist to a point that they interfere with your day-to-day routine, or it’s been more than a few days dealing with the same issues, set an appointment. 

There are a number of treatment options your doctor may be able to offer after diagnosing a pinched nerve in your back. Generally, a pinched nerve treatment plan consists of a combination of base-level treatments. When those don’t provide ample relief, more aggressive options may be presented. 

Noninvasive, Low-Level Treatment Options Are Available

Often, noninvasive, low-level treatment options are enough to relieve pinched nerve symptoms. Anti-inflammatory medications that don’t involve steroids can usually help reduce swelling of muscle tissue and tendons that may be compressing your nerves.  

Steroid Injections Are Minimally Invasive

When symptoms persist, your doctor may suggest epidural treatments in which steroids are injected into an affected area to reduce swelling for extended periods of time. These injections can often happen right there in your doctor’s office without extended recovery time.

Surgical Procedures to Alleviate Pinched Back Nerves

As a last resort, your spine doctor may recommend a minimally invasive surgical procedure to help correct a pinched nerve in your back. The exact procedure will depend on the root cause of the pinch. For instance, a microdiscectomy calls for a small incision in the back to correct a herniated disc.

Ultimately, in many cases, having a pinched nerve is a temporary condition. Once the cause is removed, pressure dissipates, and usually the previously affected nerve returns to normal functioning.  

When your condition goes unaddressed, however, both chronic pain and permanent nerve damage are likely to occur. So if you feel you may be experiencing symptoms of a pinched nerve in your back, it is always best to err on the side of caution and have the issue checked out.

10 Most FAQs about Physical Therapy

Most people have a general idea what physical therapy is and how it works. But unless you’ve gone through it yourself, there are likely many things you don’t know. And lots of questions you’d like answers to.

That’s why we decided to create this post. It answers the questions we most commonly get from people trying to figure out if physical therapy is for them. Read on to get a clearer picture on how physical therapy works — and how it might help you.

What Is Physical Therapy Exactly? 

The short answer is that physical therapy is a group or series of therapeutic exercises and/or treatments designed to rehabilitate the spine or other parts of the body. 

The treatments often include:

  • ultrasound, 
  • joint mobilization, 
  • electrical stimulation, 
  • massage,
  • and heat/cold therapy. 

The exercises typically include those that both stretch and strengthen, with a focus on the specific area that needs help. In spinal physical therapy, postural modification is often a key component.

Generally, treatments and exercises are used together to supplement each other and reinforce your body against reinjury.

What Can Physical Therapy Help With?

Depending on what they specialize in, physical therapists are able to treat a range of medical issues. Just a few examples of conditions that can benefit from PT include:

  • Back pain
  • Carpal tunnel
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Concussion
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Developmental delays
  • Lymphedema
  • MS
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Parkinson’s
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Post-myocardial infarction
  • Rotator cuff tears
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Stroke
  • TBI
  • Tennis elbow
  • TMJ
  • Trigger finger
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Vestibular dysfunction

What Spinal Conditions Does Physical Therapy Treat?

Your customized treatment plan will depend upon your unique symptoms and their root causes. 

That being said, there are physical therapy options for many spinal issues – ranging from musculoskeletal dysfunction to neurological conditions to back injuries. 

After spine surgery, for example, PT is frequently prescribed as a way to help with recovery.

What Kind Of Training Does Someone Have To Have In Order To Become A Licensed Physical Therapist? 

Physical therapy licensing requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in PT plus a licensing exam. Therapists must also often complete a certain amount of didactic and clinical interning stints prior to being hired. 

This training commonly involves practical study, such as:

  • Anatomy
  • Disease
  • Healing and recovery
  • Injury
  • Kinesiology
  • Therapeutic treatment techniques

How Do I Know Whether I Need Physical Therapy for My Back?

There is a myriad of conditions and symptoms that can indicate a need for physical therapy. But two tell-tale signs are: 

  1. injury to your back or 
  2. chronic pain (pain that lasts more than three months). 

If you’re unsure whether you might benefit from physical therapy, the best course of action is to consult with your doctor.

Do I Need a Referral from My Regular Doctor to See a Physical Therapist? 

Short answer: no. Although a doctor may refer you to a physical therapist for treatment, you do not legally need a referral in order to receive PT. 

Keep in mind, however, that just because you are able to go to physical therapy does not mean that your insurance will cover it. 

If you’re specifically wondering whether you need a referral for your insurance to cover physical therapy, that depends on your personal coverage plan. 

How Will Physical Therapy Help My Back?

The overall purpose of physical therapy for the back is to provide relief from back pain, help patients recover from injury, and get them back to regular daily activities as quickly as possible.

Just a few benefits you can see from physical therapy include:

  • Avoid surgery
  • Better range of motions
  • Fewer medical problems related to age
  • Greater movement and mobility
  • Improved flexibility
  • Increased balance
  • Manage pain without opioids (or reduced opioids)
  • Performance improvement
  • Prevent falls 
  • Recovery – from injury, stroke, paralysis, or trauma

The specific benefits you receive will depend upon your individual medical history and conditions.

Does Physical Therapy Treatment Hurt? 

That depends. While some treatment can be uncomfortable (or even painful), every treatment plan is designed to ultimately reduce or eliminate pain altogether. 

Moreover, therapists understand how to craft treatment plans that minimize the amount of pain you feel. 

And finally, while some initial soreness is natural when engaging in exercise and stretching, this tends to diminish as therapy continues, while strength and range of motion increase. 

Patients typically tell us they feel better after a therapy session. And they look forward to the next time they come.

Will Physical Therapy Cure My Condition?

It depends upon the condition. There are a number of issues that can be completely resolved through physical therapy or a combination of PT and other treatments. But sometimes treatment plans are designed simply to reduce pain and help patients manage it.

If you are unsure where your specific medical issue falls, ask!

Can Physical Therapy Replace Opioids Or Other Pain Medications In My Treatment Plan? 

Again, this is something that depends upon your specific situation. 

For some people with some conditions, the answer is yes. Physical therapy can completely replace opioids and other pain medication and provide them with similar – or even better – relief. 

In other cases, PT can be used to reduce dependency on these types of medications, though they will still need to be used.

Still Have More Questions about Physical Therapy?

Hopefully, this answers some of your questions and clears up confusion and concerns you may have. 

However, we know that no FAQ document can hope to completely answer every question that every person might have. So, if you still have questions about how PT may benefit you, get in touch with Atlanta Spine directly. 

We want you to feel comfortable and armed with knowledge before making any treatment decisions about your back. So please don’t hesitate to reach out.

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. 

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.