If persistent neck or back pain is keeping you from moving, working and doing the things you enjoy, you're not alone. Back pain is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor.
Thirty-three bones called vertebrae, along with discs in between, make up the spinal column and protect your spinal cord, enabling you to stand and bend. The spinal column is broken into sections with a certain number of vertebrae in each. These sections include the:
- Cervical spine (neck) with seven vertebrae.
- Thoracic spine (upper back) with 12 vertebrae attached to the ribs and sternum (breast bone). This is the most stable part of the back.
- Lumbar spine (lower back) with five vertebrae. This section of the back carries the most weight and allows for the most motion, making it the most prone to problems.
- Sacral region (bottom of the spine) with five vertebrae fused together at the base of the spine; they help make up the pelvis.
- Coccygeal region (tailbone) with four small bones at the very bottom of the spinal column.
Diagnosis and treatment of back pain
There isn't a one-size-fits-all approach to treating back injuries and conditions. If you're suffering from back pain, turn to an HonorHealth orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of back injuries and conditions in the Phoenix and Scottsdale areas.
Any successful treatment plan begins with an accurate diagnosis. Orthopedic spine surgeons at HonorHealth will use a variety of medical imaging and diagnostic technologies to pinpoint the exact location of your back or neck pain, numbness or weakness.
Technologies used to diagnose your back and neck issues may include:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Computed tomography (CT) scans.
Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will explain the condition and the various treatment options to help alleviate your neck or back pain or other issues.
Since no two individuals and no two back injuries or conditions are exactly the same, your treatment plan will be tailored to you. Your doctor will explore a wide range of nonsurgical and surgical treatment options based on your specific symptoms and diagnosis.
Nonsurgical treatment options
These may include:
- Activity or lifestyle modification.
- Physical therapy.
- Dry needle therapy, a practice similar to acupuncture that's based on Western medicine and focuses on reaching trigger points in the muscles.
- Epidural steroid injections and/or anti-inflammatory medications.
- Radiofrequency ablation, which uses an electrical current to heat nerve tissue and, in turn, decrease pain signals from the affected area.
Surgical treatment options
Some back injuries and conditions require surgery. The end goal of surgery is to deliver neck or back pain relief while maintaining or improving your range of motion, stability and strength. The majority of today's orthopedic spine surgeries can be performed in an outpatient setting, which means you can go home the same day.
HonorHealth's team of orthopedic surgeons is committed to taking the least invasive approach to surgery whenever possible. They often choose minimally invasive and robotic-assisted techniques over conventional open surgery.
Minimally invasive spine surgery allows surgeons to use smaller incisions and minimize injury to muscles, ligaments and joints in the surgical area. Minimally invasive approaches can shorten hospital stays, minimize pain, and speed recovery for:
- Performing spinal decompression surgeries.
- Treating degenerative disks.
- Correcting deformities like scoliosis and spinal instability (spondylolisthesis).
Depending on your diagnosis, your orthopedic spine surgeon may use one of the following open or minimally invasive surgical treatments:
- Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF surgery), removal of a herniated or degenerative disk in the neck.
- Cervical disk replacement, replacement of a disk in the cervical (neck) portion of the spine with an artificial disk.
- Cervical foraminotomy, removal of a portion of a disk that's compressing a nerve neck.
- Lumbar laminectomy, removal of a portion of a disk that's compressing a nerve in the back.
- Spinal fusion surgery, treatment of instability or a spinal deformity by permanently joining a portion of the vertebrae in your neck or back. Various types of fusion surgery are available, based on the area affected and most appropriate surgical approach.
Spine surgeons also have access to various advanced surgical technologies. Some of these technologies provide a 3D, real-time image of the spine during surgery, enhancing the surgeon's view while operating. This technology increases surgical precision and minimizes damage to nearby muscles and nerves.
Surgery is always a big step, especially when it comes to treating back or neck pain and spine deformities. Be sure to talk openly with your doctor about your condition, expected outcomes and any concerns. You may also want to consider getting a second opinion before undergoing back surgery.