Doctors who specialize in treating patients for back pain, wish more patients suffering from chronic pain knew the following:
When it comes to strong painkillers and increasingly invasive surgeries, bigger is not better. While surgery is the right option for some, the culture of pain management in the United States has produced the myth that the more invasive and aggressive the technique, the more effective it is. This over-reliance on aggressive techniques, especially opioids and invasive surgeries, puts last resorts at the front of the line while ignoring a range of safer and frequently more effective treatments — injections, vertebral augmentation, stem cell therapy or radiofrequency ablation, to name a few.
Simply put, the more aggressive and invasive techniques have not demonstrated that they produce better results. People aren’t automobiles. Our bodies can’t be put back together quickly or without some downside from surgery. While the more invasive repair may be better for your car, when it comes to people, the less invasive the technique, the better the patient recovery will be.
The primary consequence of the bigger is better mentally has produced a dangerous dependence on opioids for treating non-cancer pain and post-surgical pain. Opioids may be necessary for a relatively comfortable recovery after surgery, but normally not for more than four to six weeks. Recent research estimates that six percent of patients prescribed opioids after surgery become persistent opioid users. Treatment relying on opioids should only be considered a last resort.
Furthermore, it’s not clear that invasive surgeries are effective for patients. As an example, one of the most common pain management procedures is lumbar spinal fusion surgery, which is often used to treat chronic lower back pain. A new study from the medical journal Spine indicates 20 percent of patients undergo another operation within four years of an initial spinal fusion. Patients can only hope they’re not the unlucky one out of five sitting in the doctor’s waiting room who will be back for a second operation.
Pain sufferers should know that the vast majority of their chronic pain could be helped with simple, less invasive procedures without having to make an incision. Patients and doctors should start with the least invasive options before moving on to surgery and more definitive techniques.
Instead of having patients go under the knife and prescribing them opioids, many of patients suffering from chronic lower back pain have experienced tremendous results with radiofrequency ablation, which uses radiofrequency energy to deactivate a nerve that transmits pain from a patient’s lumbar disc. This procedure can be done with a needle during an outpatient visit, and it often provides instant relief that can last for years.
Other procedures include epidural steroid injections (ESIs) and vertebral augmentation surgery. Both are minimally invasive options that help relieve acute and chronic pain.
Epidural injections relieve a variety of conditions, including sciatica, herniated discs and spinal stenosis. During an ESI, a surgeon or interventional pain physician injects a local anesthetic and a steroid into the epidural space, providing swift pain relief for the region. While this relief only lasts for a few weeks or months, it provides patients with enough time to continue working on their physical therapy and for the underlying pathology to heal.
Vertebral augmentation is an injection of a cementing agent into a vertebra in order to stabilize a vertical compression fracture (VCF). VCFs can result in severe deformity and extreme pain, and vertebral augmentation can help fix this injury with minimal complication or risk.
For patients suffering the disabling effects of chronic back pain, it’s important to know there are alternatives to opioids and invasive surgeries; not only radiofrequency ablation, but a whole range of minimally-invasive techniques. In the end, surgery may be necessary — but for many, these other options will prove to be not only safer, but also more effective.
For more information on non-invasive treatments for chronic back pain, contact Comprehensive Pain Management in South Kingstown, RI.