Low Back Pain

Almost everyone will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. This pain can vary from mild to severe. It can be short-lived or long-lasting. However it happens, low back pain can make many everyday activities difficult to do.

The good news is, in most cases back pain resolves on its own within a few weeks. If your back pain does not get better within a few weeks however, or is associated with fever, chills, or unexpected weight loss, you should call your doctor.

In general, treatment for low back pain falls into one of three categories: medications, physical medicine, and surgery.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Medications - Several medications may be used to help relieve your pain.

  • Aspirin or acetaminophen can relieve pain with few side effects.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen reduce pain and swelling.
  • Narcotic pain medications, such as codeine or morphine, may help.
  • Steroids, taken either orally or injected into your spine, deliver a high dose of anti-inflammatory medicine.

Physical medicine - Low back pain can be disabling. Medications and therapeutic treatments combined often relieve pain enough for you to do all the things you want to do.

  • Physical therapy can include passive modalities such as heat, ice, massage, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation. Active therapy consists of stretching, weight lifting, and cardiovascular exercises. Exercising to restore motion and strength to your lower back can be very helpful in relieving pain.
  • Braces are often used. The most common brace is a corset-type that can be wrapped around the back and stomach. Braces are not always helpful, but some people report feeling more comfortable and stable while wearing them.
  • Chiropractic or manipulation therapy is provided in many different forms. Some patients have relief from low back pain with these treatments.
  • Traction is often used, but without scientific evidence for effectiveness.
  • Other exercise-based programs, such as Pilates or yoga are helpful for some patients.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery for low back pain should only be considered when nonsurgical treatment options have been tried and have failed. It is best to try nonsurgical options for 6 months to a year before considering surgery.
In addition, surgery should only be considered if you doctor can pinpoint the source of your pain.
Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery - we are now realizing that waiting forever before surgery might not be the best option for many patients. Once we’ve determined that other techniques like physical therapy and medication aren’t getting any results, we start to look at surgery and whether we can recommend a minimally invasive procedure, which offers less pain, a shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery.
We are performing more minimally invasive spine surgeries than ever before and fully expect this growing trend to continue.
Spinal Fusion - this is essentially a "welding" process. The basic idea is to fuse together the painful vertebrae so that they heal into a single, solid bone.
Spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebral segments. It is an option when motion is the source of pain. For example, your doctor may recommend spinal fusion if you have spinal instability, a bad curvature (scoliosis), or severe degeneration of one or more of your disks. The theory is if the painful spine segments do not move, they should not hurt.
The results of spinal fusion for low back pain vary. It can be very effective at eliminating pain, not work at all, and everything in between. Full recovery can take more than a year.
Disc Replacement - this procedure involves removing the disk and replacing it with artificial parts, similar to replacements of the hip or knee.
The goal of disk replacement is to allow the spinal segment to keep some flexibility and maintain more normal motion.
The surgery is done through your abdomen, usually on the lower two disks of the spine.

Dr. Todd Peters joined Vail • Summit Orthopaedics in 2001. He has an acute interest in treating patients with the latest and most atraumatic/minimally invasive treatments, both surgical and non-surgical. He is a national leader and physician instructor for the newest spine surgery techniques.