Surgery as a Last Resort: How We Identify the Most Conservative Treatment Appropriate for You

When someone experiences chronic, severe back or neck pain, there’s a point when the thought arises: “Will I need surgery?”

Any non-emergency surgery requires a thoughtful decision-making process. Yet, there’s something about back and neck surgery that puts people at unease. Perhaps they knew someone who underwent surgery and ended up in even more pain post-procedure. Others are worried about the potential of damaging the spinal cord—leading to paralysis.

Here are three facts to consider:

  • Surgery involving the spine has improved greatly over the last decade
  • Paralysis post-surgery is incredibly rare (for example, it is the rarest of all potential complications in herniated disc surgery)
  • Many people can find relief without surgical intervention

It’s important to know how your surgical specialists navigate the treatment process. One factor is to consider if their first approach is to identify the most conservative treatment appropriate for you, the patient.

Why Conservative Treatments Deserve Attention First

It’s a question I often get: “If you’re a surgical facility, with many surgeons on staff, why would you push conservative treatments?” This is not unique to New Jersey Brain and Spine. Many of my colleagues in the immediate area receive the same inquiry.

The answer is simple. Our first priority is unequivocally our patients. If surgery is not the best option, at least not the best option right now, we can still provide viable treatment options to get our patients back to living their best lives. There is no reason to subject patients to surgical intervention if it’s not necessary.

What Types of Conservative Treatments Are Available?

A simple treatment to implement is anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen (brand names Advil and Aleve, respectively). These are available over-the-counter or by prescription. To be clear, these medications are not meant to be a long-term solution. When used for a lengthy period of time, they may lead to side effects such as stomach irritation, ulcers, kidney damage, and increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and blood clots.

Should anti-inflammatory medications fail to provide an adequate level of relief, another option is physical therapy. At New Jersey Brain and Spine, our in-house physical therapist has particular expertise in spinal conditions such as herniated discs, pinched nerves, and spinal stenosis—as well as treating shoulder, hip, and knee conditions. My colleagues and I stress an exercise approach with the patient being an active participant in their individualized physical therapy program.

Next in line is a trigger-point injection. These injections target areas of painful soft tissue and muscle, usually at the base of the neck, shoulder blade, or low back. They involve a local anesthetic and a small amount of cortisone. Injections often provide relief for many months. This allows a sufficient period of time for patients to work with their specialist to determine appropriate next steps.

Surgery Should Not Be Feared

Our specialists do everything in their power to ensure our patients receive the treatment most appropriate for their unique situation. Sometimes, conservative treatments are enough to lift debilitating symptoms. In other cases, surgery becomes the best option. The key word here is “best.”

I routinely collaborate with my colleagues on patients’ care, allowing for expertise that ensures the best outcomes. Again, back and neck surgery has improved dramatically over the last few years and our specialists possess the latest knowledge surrounding advanced technology and techniques.

If you are experiencing back or neck pain, and have found at-home treatments to be ineffective, please get in touch with the office for a personalized consultation. There are many options we can try before turning to surgical intervention.