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Back Pain: It Doesn’t Always Mean Surgery

“I have back pain, but don’t want to go see the doctor because I’m afraid I’ll have to have surgery.” This fear is shared by many people. However, the truth is that avoiding seeing the doctor may, in actuality, cause the pain and condition to worsen.

Eighty percent of people with back pain can be cured with treatment using medication and physical therapy. Many people, however, are under the misconception that if they have back pain, the end result is that they will eventually have to undergo surgical treatment. Because of this misconception, many put off seeing the doctor, and they leave their condition untreated until it becomes chronic, before they finally come for a checkup.

Back pain has a variety of causes, depending on the activities and daily habits of each individual. In the past, it was said that anyone who had back pain was experiencing one of the common symptoms of aging due to a lifetime of hard work and heavy lifting over a long period of time. In other words, it was understood that as people age, they would begin to experience more back pain.

Today, however, people of working age and even younger men and women frequently experience back pain due to bad daily habits and practices. All day, every day, many people sit working at their computers, and when they’re free from working at the computer, they’re likely part of the society of “bowed heads”–heads lowered, gazing at their phones. The price we pay for these habits is back pain and neck pain, as well.

Back Pain Does Not Mean Surgery in Every Case

It’s likely that most everyone, at one point or another, has had back pain. Treatment of back pain most often do not require surgery, and is dependent on the type of disease or condition and the level of severity of the symptoms. If the back pain does not have a specific disease or condition causing it, for example, acute muscular pain or work-related back pain, these can generally be treated with medication and physical therapy and will usually disappear within two to three weeks. After that, however, a lot it depends upon how well you take care of yourself and how much you are able to change your work/life habits and behaviors. If you continue your former ways, it’s likely that your back pain will return because the majority of cases of back pain are due to incorrect practices and lifestyle habits being repeated over and over. Whenever patients come to see me, I look first at these aspects:

  • What kind of work do they do?
  • How many hours a day do they spend on a computer?
  • Do they lie down while watching TV?
  • Do they smoke?
  • Are they overweight?

Those who work too hard need to stop and rest sometimes. Those who spend all day sitting in front of a computer screen need to get up every one to two hours to stretch and move their bodies a bit. Those who like to lie on one side watching TV should learn to sit in the proper position. Those who smoke should stop. Those who are overweight should lose weight. Treatment must be carried out concurrently on many levels, in order for it to be effective.

For those who have back pain as a result of specific and identifiable spinal diseases, such as, degenerative disc disease or lumbar spondylolisthesis. For many, pain relief medications along with proper physical therapy can help your body to adapt and support the affected areas where there has been degeneration or slippage.

When Surgery is Necessary?

In cases where symptoms are more severe, such as in the case of a herniated disc, which can cause intense pain radiating down the leg, severe pain to the point that the patient cannot walk, or symptoms that interfere with daily life. These symptoms can be coupled with other physical effects such as scoliosis or a slouched, bent back and may require surgical treatment. Other cases requiring surgery could include infection, such as cases of bone tuberculosis, where severe infection causes destruction and/or deformity of the bones.

Thoughts from the doctor: “Surgery is something that everyone fears, but often, it is because of that fear that they allow too much time to pass before seeking medical assistance, and in the end have no other option but surgery. Don’t be afraid to come and see a doctor, because seeking that help from the very beginning at the onset of symptoms, can greatly help in treating the condition, both in terms of the duration and the costs of treatment. Begin today to modify your lifestyle and and start taking steps to move away from the “bowed heads” society and start actually conversing and interacting more with the people around you. If you take good care of yourself and start practicing the right habits, it will go a long way to reducing your back pain, both now and in the future.”

Prof. Emer. Charoen Chotigavanich, MD
Specialist in Spinal and Orthopedic Surgery
Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital
Former President of the Asia Pacific Orthopedic Association (APOA)

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Prof.Emeritus Charoen Chotigavanich, M.D. Summary: Orthopedics Orthopedics