Conservative and alternative treatment methods to ease neck and back pain caused by degenerative spine conditions
Degenerative spine treatment to ease your neck and back pain
The term “degenerative spine” may sound alarming to you, but the truth is that almost everyone older than 50 has some form of degenerative spine disease. The spine naturally wears down as the body ages — spinal discs gradually deteriorate and the cartilage protecting the joints begins to show signs of wear and tear.
If you have been diagnosed with a degenerative spine condition, your doctor will likely begin recommending many options for treatment. Research the options available to you so you can play an active role in your treatment process. Typically, treatments will begin conservatively, though sometimes surgery is needed if all conservative treatments have been exhausted and you are still suffering from chronic neck or back pain.
Conservative options for degenerative spine treatment
Degenerative spine treatment can take many forms. To determine the best treatment for your unique needs — whether that includes conservative therapies, surgical intervention or potentially both — you should always make sure you have a full understanding of your condition and consider all of the available options.
Spinal degeneration essentially begins with the breakdown of spinal cartilage, either in the discs or in the spine’s facet joints. If cartilaginous discs between the vertebrae begin to weaken or become brittle, this is sometimes called degenerative disc disease. If cartilage on the surface of the facet joints erodes, this is called degenerative spinal arthritis, or spinal osteoarthritis. These conditions can lead to herniated discs, thinning discs, bone spurs, bulging discs and/or spinal stenosis, which is the narrowing of the spinal canal. All of these changes can make the neck and back feel stiff and achy, and can also put painful pressure on spinal nerves.
If your physician has diagnosed you with any of the above, he or she may suggest conservative degenerative spine treatment options, including:
- Physical therapy. This approach consists of gentle stretching and muscle-building exercises that are aimed at helping patients increase their mobility, flexibility, strength and endurance. When done properly — as instructed by an experienced physical therapist — stretching can often temporarily increase the nerve space in the spinal column, thereby alleviating some of the pressure placed on affected nerves. That can mean relief from pain, numbness, weakness or other symptoms caused by the nerve compression. Physical therapists can also teach patients about maintaining proper posture and using the correct lifting techniques.
- Steroid injections. These injections are commonly known as “epidural steroid injections” because they are delivered into the epidural space of the spine, or the area between the spinal membrane and the vertebral wall. These corticosteroid injections temporarily mitigate pain by reducing inflammation around compressed nerves in the spine. Such injections are typically comprised of a combination of a numbing agent and a longer-lasting corticosteroid. Epidural steroid injections function primarily as temporary pain relievers, but spinal injections can also be used to make more accurate diagnoses concerning the location of spinal abnormalities.
- Pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Physicians often advise their degenerative spine patients to use over-the-counter or prescription medications to help manage symptoms like pain. The specific products recommended may include muscle relaxants, narcotic pain medications, oral steroids, anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen. It’s best to check with a physician before beginning any new medicine to understand potential side effects and interactions with other drugs or supplements.
- Lifestyle changes. Having unhealthy habits can contribute to the progression of neck and back problems. Thus, physicians often ask their patients to make improvements to their lifestyle to help minimize damage. Changes might include quitting smoking to help protect disc proteins from breaking down, losing weight to remove some of the excess pressure from the spine and performing moderate exercise to enhance overall strength and flexibility.
Many patients also choose to incorporate holistic approaches into their degenerative spine treatment plan as an alternative to traditional techniques or in order to complement them. Although the medical community has not yet reached a consensus on the effectiveness of such methods, people with degenerative spine conditions may find that they help manage their symptoms. A few examples of alternative and complementary treatment options include:
- Therapeutic massage. Intended to relieve tension from the muscles of the neck and back, massage can stimulate blood vessels and thereby increase blood flow. It is also useful for relieving and preventing muscle spasms and potentially improving the flexibility of targeted areas.
- Acupuncture. This method involves placing tiny needles at specific locations in the patient’s body. The aim is to stimulate “acupoints” along specific pathways that run throughout the body, potentially relieving the pain and other symptoms associated with a damaged spine.
- Chiropractic care. Chiropractors work to bring the spine back into proper alignment, based on the belief that neck and back issues can be caused by components of the spine being out of place. They use a variety of spinal manipulation techniques to help provide their patients with temporary relief from their symptoms.
- Herbal remedies. People with spine problems sometimes take herbs in a variety of forms to control their symptoms. Some patients find them beneficial, but a physician should always be consulted before adding herbs and other supplements to a treatment plan, lest they interact with a medication or have other serious side effects.
Many people who have degenerative spine issues find that conservative treatment sufficiently addresses their symptoms and allows them to carry on with work and other typical tasks. For the patients who don’t gain enough benefits from conservative therapies, spine surgery may become a viable option. Traditional open neck and back surgeries are performed in a hospital setting and patients must usually spend a few days at the facility to recover before they are released. These highly invasive procedures require large incisions, lengthy recovery time and cause muscle disruption.
At Laser Spine Institute, we offer minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery as an alternative to these traditional surgeries. We are at the forefront of minimally invasive surgical technology and we have helped more than 75,000 people find relief from neck and back pain since 2005. Our surgeons perform several types of minimally invasive decompression and minimally invasive stabilization procedures that are designed to improve the lives of our patients. These procedures have less risk of infection and complications^ than traditional open spine surgery.