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Can Acupuncture Relieve Back Pain?

Spine Acupuncture

Not all advances in treating spinal disorders are necessarily new. Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years, and researchers and medical experts have now established that this ancient healing art can relieve chronic back pain. One recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that acupuncture can be more effective than standard treatments such as medication or physical therapy for relieving back pain – even for conditions such as very mild incidents of spinal stenosis and slipped disc. In the study, patients were divided into four groups. In one group patients received customized acupuncture treatments. Another group received acupuncture treatments generally recommended by practitioners for chronic lower back pain. A third group received only a treatment that mimicked acupuncture, using a toothpick that never actually penetrated the skin. The fourth group simply continued the course of therapy they were already pursuing, without acupuncture.

Researchers found that all three of the acupuncture groups – even the simulated acupuncture group – reported more “meaningful” improvement in their ability to engage in everyday activities than did the group that continued their usual back pain therapy without acupuncture. Moreover, the study authors found that the superior improvements in pain reduction reported by the acupuncture group participants persisted after a year.

This study certainly doesn’t suggest everyone with spinal problems should stop their current treatment regimens in favor of acupuncture. After all, not all participants in the study benefited from acupuncture. But the study concluded that acupuncture is a reasonable option to be considered when selecting therapy for back pain. This is one more example of new thinking about treatments for chronic back pain, which has witnessed major advances in recent years. For example, spinal decompression surgery, which can dramatically reduce back pain by relieving pressure on pinched nerves emanating from the spinal column, was traditionally followed by spine fusion surgery, to stabilize the vertebral segments where the decompression procedure was performed. Today the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System can be implanted as an alternative to spinal fusion. Unlike spinal fusion, the TOPS solution allows the individual vertebrae to maintain their full range of independent motion.

If you have chronic back pain, make sure you know all the treatment options available – from acupuncture to spinal decompression surgery. And always work with qualified physicians specializing in spinal problems to find an appropriate treatment protocol.

What is Degenerative Joint Disease?

Degenerative Joint Pain

“What is degenerative joint disease, and what did I do to come down with it?” That’s a common reaction from spinal patients after receiving a diagnosis of osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease. The degeneration usually results from the normal process of aging, typically beginning in middle age with the breakdown of cartilage, the rubbery tissue that serves as a cushion between bones and around joints. Degenerative joint disease is the most common joint disorder, and is frequently seen in the joints of the spinal column due to the many stresses and strains put on these joints. Occupations that involve physically demanding kneeling or squatting can also predispose one to degenerative joint disease, and injury or disease can also contribute to degenerative changes in the affected area later in life. Excessive weight, lack of exercise, smoking and a poor diet can also exacerbate the degeneration.

Degeneration in the spine is characterized by a breakdown of the cushioning spinal discs. This leads to bones rubbing against each other, resulting in pain, stiffness, swelling, reduced motion of the joint and other associated symptoms.

A number of treatment options are available for degenerative joint disease of the spine, including physical therapy, medications and injections. For patients with moderate to severe osteoarthritis not improved by conservative approaches, spinal decompression surgery may provide relief by reducing pressure on pinched nerves resulting from the reduction in cushioning the degenerative joint disease causes. The decompression procedure has historically been performed in tandem with spinal fusion surgery, to stabilize the spine by fusing two vertebrae together at the point where the decompression procedure was performed. Today the TOPS™ System provides a clinically proven superior alternative to spinal fusion, enabling patients to maintain the full range of motion of each individual vertebra. You may not be able to stop natural degenerative changes, but a range of effective medical options are available to treat them. A qualified specialist can help you choose the one that’s right for you.

Causes of Back Pain in Adolescents vs. Adults

Back pain

Though the majority of spinal problems appear between the ages of 35 and 55, wrought by natural processes associated with aging, you don’t have to be an adult to have back problems. Back pain can also affect adolescents and even children. As many as half of all young people will have experienced back pain by age 20. It may be a sharp and shooting pain, or a burning or aching. It may be felt anywhere in the back. These are the same symptoms adults experience, but the causes of adolescent back pain are usually different than those that afflict their elders. That said, benign musculoskeletal diseases and trauma are responsible for most cases of back pain in adolescents just as they are for adults. Any strenuous or straining activity – sports or play, carrying a heavy backpack, or falling – can sprain muscles in the back and cause pain. Such strains and trauma account for around 50 percent of the younger patients seen in hospital emergency rooms suffering from back pain.

Fortunately, most cases of adolescent back pain resolve on their own. In fact, the exact cause of the back pain is never identified in at least half the adolescents seeking treatment. However, adolescents can exhibit serious spinal conditions capable of causing long term problems. These include stress fracture of the spine, known as spondylolysis, spondylolisthesiswhich is forward slippage of one vertebra on another, and lumbar disc herniations. Infections, inflammatory diseases, and tumors can also cause back pain in children and adolescents, as can other congenital or acquired conditions. As in adults, spinal decompression surgery can relieve pressure on pinched nerves and the concomitant pain and restricted mobility these conditions can cause. A TOPS™ System implant can be used following decompression spine surgery, rather than the spinal fusion procedure typically performed. Whereas spine fusion surgery eliminates the independent movement of fused vertebrae, the TOPS System preserves the full range of flexion and rotational motion of each individual vertebra. And that’s welcome news for spine decompression patients.

Why are some spinal surgeons more successful than others?

Surgeons

It’s a fact that some spine surgeonshave higher success rates for the operations they perform than their colleagues. What accounts for these differences in surgical outcomes of spinal procedures? A number of factors influence surgical success rates and should be considered when interpreting what the rates say about a particular spinal surgeon’s abilities.

Spine surgery is a highly complex endeavor requiring years of training and experience to perfect. Surgeons with more experience tend to have more successful outcomes than less experienced surgeons. The success rates of board certified or board eligible spine surgeons are also typically higher than those of non-board certified or eligible surgeons. Another factor to consider: some surgeons specialize in specific areas of the spine – such as lumbar spinal surgery – and some specialize in treating particular conditions – such as slipped disc or spondylolisthesis – while other back surgeons do not specialize in any one type of treatment. Specialists have higher success rates than those of their colleagues who do not focus on the type of surgeries they perform.

Beyond the skill of the surgeon, success rates are also linked to the type of procedure chosen to treat a particular problem. The decision to utilize one procedure – perhaps because the surgeon is more familiar with it – rather than an alternative treatment, can also affect a surgeon’s success rate. For example, there is a choice in surgical stabilization procedures to employ following decompression spinal surgery, which is performed to treat conditions including spinal stenosisspondylosis, and spinal cord injuries. In the past, spinal fusion back surgery has been virtually the only surgical stabilization option, but today an alternative procedure, the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System has been proven in clinical trials around the world to provide better success rates that spinal fusion. Thus, a back surgeon might have a better than average success rate performing spinal fusion procedures, but still not reach the success rates achieved with a new procedure. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with the full range of available treatment options when evaluating the success rates of any spine surgeon.

Choosing a Spinal Surgeon

Surgeon

Choosing a spinal surgeon is among the most important medical decisions a patient can make. A spinal surgeon does more than perform an operation. A spinal surgeon consults with you, explains options and answers questions, and plans your treatment and recovery. You need to trust your spine surgeon, and to feel free to discuss all medical matters frankly.

You should choose a spinal surgeon who is board certified or board eligible, and trained in a fellowship program. If possible, choose a surgeon who specializes in the area of the spine that requires treatment– for example, a lumbar spinal surgery specialist if your problem is in the lower back. Alternatively, choose a spine surgeon who specializes in treating the specific condition affecting you, such as spondylolisthesis or spinal cord injuries.

Recent years have witnessed tremendous advances in treatment of spinal conditions, such as minimally invasive procedures that provide better outcomes than traditional open back surgery. It is essential that you choose a back surgeon that has experience with advanced procedures, to ensure you have access to the very latest treatments and the greatest spectrum of surgical options. For example, surgery to treat spinal stenosisslipped disc and a variety of other conditions that can result in pinched nerves, have often utilized spinal fusion back surgery as a means of stabilizing the spine, following spinal decompression therapy. Today the TOPS ™ (Total Posterior Solution) System provides a clinically proven superior alternative to spinal fusion surgery. Moreover, the TOPS implant preserves the full range of movement of the spine’s individual vertebrae, whereas spinal fusion eliminates the spine’s natural motion between fused vertebral segments. Examples like this illustrate why it’s important to work with a spine surgeon who can offer a complete range of surgical options. Thoroughly investigate all your treatment options as well as the qualifications of the specialists you consider working with, and you’ll be sure to make a wise choice when it comes to selecting a spinal surgeon.

Advantages of Medical Tourism

Medical Tourism

Can you really travel to a foreign destination for a vacation, and get quality medical attention and surgery at the same time? That’s the question many people raise when the subject of medical tourism comes up. The skepticism is understandable, given the images many people have of some of the locations associated with medical tourism –India,Thailand,Singapore,Latin America and Eastern Europe. But there are indeed many advantages medical tourism can offer that make it well worth considering for some people. Of course the quality of medical care should always be the primary consideration, and the fact is there are first-rate medical facilities and physicians, surgeons, and other health care professionals in all the places mentioned above, as in many other areas of the world, such as Germany, the UK,Turkey,Israel, and Cyprus. Given the fact that the quality of medical care can be excellent, and the cost often well less than half of prices in your own country, medical tourism can indeed make great sense. The New England Journal of Medicine recently reported the case of a self-employed carpenter and cardiac patient who faced charges ranging from $40,000 to $200,000 vs. less than $7,000 in India for a cardiac procedure. The carpenter had the surgery in New Delhi and the operation was a complete success.

Another benefit of medical tourism is that you can get treatments that have been proven effective and used in parts of the world for years but have not yet, or only recently been approved for use in your country. The TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) procedure, performed in association with spinal decompression surgery, is an example of a procedure that has been used extensively in Europe. TOPS is an alternative to spinal fusion back surgery that preserves the full range of motion between the individual vertebral segments, unlike spinal fusion.

So go ahead and consider medical tourism. For some patients and medical conditions, it could be the ticket to quality, low cost healthcare.

How long after a spinal surgery before I can return to athletics?

Surgery Recovery

Near the top of the list of questions from almost every spinal surgery patient is how long they will have to wait following surgery before they can resume their normal activities. When those normal activities include athletics – golf and tennis, bowling and the like, pastimes that put tremendous strain on the back – the answer becomes more complex. The factors influencing the time before they can get back in the game include the level of the patient’s physical condition and health. Just because one engages in strenuous physical activity doesn’t mean he or she is in good physical condition or healthy. Recovery times are faster for surgery patients in good physical shape because their bodies heal faster. Of course the operation itself will play a large role in deciding when you’ll be back on the tennis courts, golf course, taking a job or engaging in a simple walk. The post-operative physical therapy program also plays a large role. But the type of back surgery is the primary factor affecting the time required to get back into sports action.

Athletics

In some cases the surgical treatment chosen for a given spinal condition will affect not only the time needed to get back on the playing field, but the degree to which you will ever be able to recover your old form. Take the stabilization procedure following spinal decompression surgery, for example. Spinal decompression is performed to relieve pressure on nerves within or emanating from the spine caused by conditions including spinal stenosisspondylolisthesis, and other degenerative changes, or as a result of spinal cord traumaSpinal fusion back surgery has been the primary stabilization procedure. But the fused vertebrae lose their independent motion following stabilization, and often patients are restricted from physical activity for up to 6 months while waiting for the biological fusion process to complete. However, today the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System provides an alternative to spinal fusion. The TOPS System, a surgical implant, stabilizes the spine while preserving each vertebra’s independent motion – and good news is that there are no restrictions on your physical activity after surgery. That’s going to ensure better performance whenever it’s time to get back in the game.

Taking Vitamins Before Surgery

Vitamins

Spinal surgery is stressful on the body. Anyone who is having spine surgery needs to prepare his or her body for the surgery and recovery period by getting in shape, getting the proper amount of rest, and following other healthy habits. Taking vitamins are among the steps that physicians often recommend to help the body heal and recover from surgery as quickly as possible.

Back surgery patients should begin taking vitamins as far as a year in advance of surgery, if possible. A well-rounded multivitamin and mineral supplement with B12, vitamin E, and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus are what your body needs to heal. Whole food vitamin and mineral supplements are often recommended because they are made from food rather than synthetic vitamins, and thus are easier for the body to utilize.

Vitamin C is another important vitamin to have on your pre- and post-surgery vitamin list. Vitamin C promotes healing and helps the body defend against illness, which can greatly interfere with surgical recovery. Vitamin A is another important healing vitamin. It protects cells and helps build new tissue, a vital part of surgical recovery.

Some types of vitamins, minerals and supplements should be avoided, as they can contribute to complications such as excessive bleeding. You should have a discussion with your spine surgeon about what vitamins you should and shouldn’t take as part of your early surgical planning.

Just as choosing the right vitamins can help speed recovery, so can choosing the right surgical procedure with the best outcomes. For example, spinal stenosis, slipped disc, spinal cord injury and a host of other spinal problems are often treated with spinal decompression surgery to relieve symptoms of nerve compression. In the past, spinal fusion back surgery was routinely performed in conjunction with spinal decompression to stabilize the spine, though fusion eliminates the natural, independent motion of the fused vertebrae. But today the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System, an advanced implant device, offers a surgical alternative that has been proven in clinical studies around the world to provide better outcomes than spinal fusion. So by all means take vitamins to speed your recuperation from surgery, but also make sure you are aware of your treatment options, and choose procedures that provide the best and quickest paths to complete recovery.

Should I stop taking medications before spinal surgery?

Medication

You have a pinched nerve, slipped disc, a spinal cord injury, or other back problem that has not responded to conservative treatments, and you have reached the decision to have spinal surgery. You and your back surgeon will discuss many aspects of your pre- and post-operative treatment, and the subject of the medications that you are currently taking – and whether you should continue their use – is high on the list of topics.

Usually patients are advised to continue use of prescription medications such as those for controlling blood pressure, even on the day of surgery – provided the medications are taken with just a small sip of water. However, use of blood thinners, aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, and diabetic and herbal medications should be discontinued prior to surgery. Your surgeon and staff will ask for a complete list of all medications you are taking, and it’s important to provide accurate answers.

One of the goals of post-operative care is effective pain management, and that requires patients to be free and weaned from any narcotic pain medications and muscle relaxants before the back surgery is performed. Fortunately, the open back surgery procedures of just a few years ago have in many cases been replaced by less invasive surgical procedures performed to relieve common back problems such as spinal stenosis, or symptoms of sciatica. These minimally invasive procedures cause little damage to collateral tissue, and therefore produce less pain and require less palliative medication, further speeding recovery. Other recent advances provide improved post-operative outcomes. For example, patients can now choose the TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System instead of spinal fusion back surgery after a spinal decompressionprocedure. The TOPS System provides better clinical outcomes than spinal fusion, and preserves the full range of the individual vertebrae. Spinal fusion eliminates the independent motion of fused vertebrae, and has been shown to promote deterioration of adjacent vertebrae.

The procedure selected to treat your back problem is also a critical part of the discussions you will have with your orthopedic surgeon. Be sure to discuss all your surgical options, including advanced, proven procedures that can provide the best outcomes for your spinal condition.

Preparing for Spinal Surgery

Preparation for Surgery

Whether for a slipped disc caused by the normal aging process, or to treat a traumatic spinal cord injury, spinal surgery is never undertaken lightly. When selected as the preferred treatment option, it’s an indication of the severity of the problem being addressed. Back surgery is performed with the expectation that it offers a reasonable expectation of a meaningful improvement in one’s medical condition, and those improvements include reduction of pain and restoration of movement. So there’s actually much to look forward to when preparing for a back surgery operation! Here are things any patient can do to ensure the surgery and recovery goes as smoothly as possible:

Get in the best shape you can – mentally and physically. Exercise and eat a healthy diet. Lose weight, as extra weight puts mechanical stresses on the back and can complicate back surgery and recovery.  Lose weight sensibly!  If you smoke, now is the time to quit! If you won’t quit, you will have to stop prior to surgery, due to the many serious health risks the results of smoking can cause for surgical patients. Talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking. Be very thorough – even herbal supplements can impact recovery or interact with other medication prescribed for surgery.

Also, prepare for surgery by learning as much as you can about all facets of your spinal condition, and its treatment. For example, the last few years have seen dramatic advances in spinal procedures that can  provide dramatically improved clinical outcomes. The TOPS™ (Total Posterior Solution) System, often used in the treatment of spinal stenosisspondylolisthesis, and other back problems that can cause a pinched nerve, is one such advanced procedure. TOPS is an implant system approved for use as an alternative to spinal fusion back surgery following a spinal decompression procedure. The TOPS System preserves the independent flexion and bending of the individual vertebrae following spinal decompression therapy, unlike fusion spine surgery, which eliminates this independent motion and can contribute to deterioration of adjacent vertebrae. The TOPS System has also been shown in clinical studies conducted around the globe to provide better short- and long-term outcomes than spinal fusion.

Make sure you learn all you can about your condition, and understand all your surgical options, thoroughly discuss your treatment with your physician, and you’ll be well prepared for your back surgery!