You have tried back braces, physical therapy and steroid injections in your lower back, but your back pain persists. Your doctor has recommended surgery as the next step to treating the pain. Depending on the exact cause of the pain, back surgeons have several techniques that they can use to reduce the pain and inflammation in your lower back. Here is what you can expect from the surgery and subsequent recovery at home.
The Source of Your Back Pain
Your spine consists of a series of bones (vertebrae) stacked together but separated by cartilage discs that provide a cushion for the bones. The spinal cord runs through these structures with bundles of nerves being sent out to the rest of the body through small openings in your spine. When these nerve bundles are irritated, they become inflamed and painful. The irritation can come from:
- degenerative bone disease that narrows the openings through which the nerves travel from the spine
- abnormal bone growth on the vertebrae which puts pressure on the nerves
- rupture of one of the cushioning discs which presses on the nerves
The surgery is to remove any of these irritations to the nerves in your back.
The Surgical Options
Your back surgeon will take X-rays and may do an MRI to get a clear view of the cause of the nerve irritation in your back. Once they identify the cause of the pain, they'll prepare you for one or more of the following surgical procedures:
- removal of bone to widen the channel through which the nerves travel
- removal of any abnormal bone growth pushing against the nerves
- removal of all or part of the ruptured disc to relieve the pressure it is putting on the nerves
If the entire disc is removed, to maintain stability of the spine, your surgeon will pack bone chips into the space to fuse the two vertebrae together. They will insert metal rods next the spine to hold it while the bones grow together. The rods may come out later, or stay in indefinitely.
Recovery from Back Surgery
Your doctor will have you work with a physical therapist for a few weeks to regain flexibility in your back. The disused muscles around your spine contract and make your back feel stiff. The therapy will slowly stretch out those muscles again.
The second phase of physical therapy is to strengthen the muscles in your lower back. You'll do exercises and work with resistance machines to build up the muscles. As your muscles grow stronger, you'll have more movement and support of your spine. The process will take several weeks, during which time the pain and inflammation will finally go away so you can enjoy your favorite activities once again.
For more information, contact a professional group like Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates.