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Our spine experts are here to help. If you have a medical question that is not answered below, ask the spine experts your question here.

Procedures for Treating Spine & Back Pain

I want to find the least invasive surgery to relieve my back pain. What procedure is my best option?

For many of the most common sources of chronic back pain, including spinal stenosis and herniated discs, a minimally invasive laminotomy can provide eff ective pain relief. A minimally invasive laminotomy has very little risk of complications.

This procedure is done to free a trapped spinal nerve from painful pressure. The back pain specialists at the OHSU Spine Center are experts at minimally invasive laminotomy. We offer a full range of back pain treatments designed to meet your individual needs.

At the OHSU Spine Center, you have access to comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, including physical therapy and rehabilitation, for all back-related pain. Our specialists can help find the source of your pain and design a treatment plan just for you.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

My doctor recommended spinal fusion to relieve my arthritis pain. Are there non-surgical treatments I should consider?

Yes. Studies show most patients with spinal arthritis can manage pain without surgery. Non-surgical treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy and exercise. An injection of local anesthetic and steroid medication or wearing a neck brace temporarily can also be effective. The back pain specialists at the OHSU Spine Center are experts at designing the most effective and least invasive treatment plan for you.

At the OHSU Spine Center, you have access to comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, including physical therapy and rehabilitation for all back-related pain. Our full team of spine experts is dedicated to helping you live an active, pain-free life.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

What is the difference between a laminotomy and a laminectomy?

Both of these are surgeries to relieve back, leg or arm pain. A laminotomy can take pressure off a spinal nerve. It can also let your doctor treat a herniated (bulging) disc or bone spur that is causing pain by pressing on a nerve. A laminectomy can create more space for spinal nerves or allow your doctor to remove bone spurs or ruptured (leaking) discs.

What’s the difference? A laminotomy only removes part of the layer of bone that covers your spinal cord. A laminectomy removes all the bone in certain areas.

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An experienced spine surgeon can help determine if a laminotomy or laminectomy is right for you. At the OHSU Spine Center, we have a full team of experts to give you immediate, personalized care. To make an appointment, call 503 418-9888.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

How effective is spinal cord stimulation in treating chronic back and leg pain?

Spinal cord stimulation can reduce back or leg pain caused by nerve damage. It works well for some people. The treatment works by sending a mild electric current to the source of your pain. This stops pain by blocking the pain signals to your brain.

Your doctor puts two small wires near your spinal cord and spinal nerves. The wires connect to a small generator that is programmed to send a mild electric current to the nerves causing pain. This procedure is done on an outpatient basis (without staying overnight in the hospital).

Some patients feel much better with spinal cord stimulation, but this treatment is not right for everyone. To find out if it is the best treatment for you, it is important to have a medical examination and talk with a doctor about all your options.

If you have back pain, we can help you return to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

SPINE CONDITIONS

I am looking into open-back surgery. What can you tell me about minimally invasive laminotomy?

A laminotomy can relieve pain from a variety of spine conditions. These include spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), herniated (bulging) discs and overgrown bone or ligaments. All these can press on spinal nerves, causing neck or back pain.

In a laminotomy, your doctor removes part of the thin layer of bone (lamina) that covers your spinal cord. This relieves pain by removing pressure on spinal nerves in that area.

Your doctor makes the surgical incision as small as possible so you recover more quickly with less discomfort. Relieving pressure on the right nerve depends on how well your doctor can see the area during surgery. Knowing how much lamina to remove takes a great deal of experience and careful planning before surgery. At the OHSU Spine Center, our doctors are experts in minimally invasive laminotomy.

Properly performed, minimally invasive laminotomy is an effective treatment with very low risk of complications. After surgery, you stay in the hospital for one night. Our full team of spine experts creates a personalized program to help you recover.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you return to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on regarding testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

I have been diagnosed with degenerative disc disease. How did I get it, and what can I do to minimize the symptoms?

Degenerative disc disease is very common as we get older. These spine changes happen to everyone over time, but in varying degrees. The most common symptom is back pain. As we age, the spinal discs become less flexible and do not spring back as well from impact or protect your spinal bones and nerves as effectively as they used to. The spinal ligaments can also become brittle and tear more easily. Exercise is the best way to keep your back healthy and limit pain. A combination of stretching and moderate strength-building exercise should be part of your daily routine. To find the best exercise program, consult a spine specialist who can show you how to exercise properly.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

What should I do if I have a herniated disc in my lower back?

If you have a herniated (bulging) disc in your lower back, stay off your feet for two to three days and rest on a firm mattress. You can place a board under your mattress to make it more supportive. Medicine that relaxes your muscles, anti-inflammatory medicines and prescription pain relievers can help reduce your pain. Alternate applying cold and hot packs to help relieve inflammation. Your doctor might recommend a steroid injectionto control pain and inflammation.

When your pain is less, physical therapy can help you strengthen your back muscles. If your pain does not get better after these treatments and you have muscle weakness or confusion, you might need surgery. At the OHSU Spine Center, we offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for all back-related pain.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

What are the treatment options for flatback syndrome, also known as loss of lumbar lordosis or kyphosis? I understand the syndrome falls under the category of spinal stenosis?

The spine’s two curves help carry us carry our upper bodies in a balanced way. An imbalance can cause pain and changes in posture that greatly affect day-to-day living. Flatback syndrome, which happens when one or both of the spinal curves straightens out, is one kind of spinal imbalance.

If you have flatback syndrome, you might have trouble standing up straight or look like you are crouching. Other symptoms are low back, thigh and groin pain.

Flatback syndrome can be caused by degenerative arthritis (joint damage) of the spine, spinal fractures (broken bones) or scoliosis (curved spine). You might also have flatback syndrome if you have had spinal fusion surgery for arthritis. To keep your spine as healthy as possible, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible after you notice symptoms. A spine specialist can confirm the diagnosis of flatback syndrome with a medical history and examination. After that, he or she can recommend specific treatments. These may include:

  • Using a cane or walker to reduce pain and help with balance
  • Physical therapy and a home exercise program
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Surgery

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

Back Pain

I have osteoporosis and now my back has a more rounded look. What is this, and how can I prevent further damage?

You might have started to develop something called a “dowager’s hump.” This is an abnormal outward curve of the spinal bones (vertebrae) in your upper back. It happens because osteoporosis makes bones thin and brittle. You also lose a little bone each year. As your bones become smaller and more brittle, the upper vertebrae can collapse on each other. This causes the rounded appearance.

However, it is never too late to stop bone loss or even reverse it. Exercise can help you strengthen your bones, develop good body mechanics (posture and movement) and make your back look less rounded. Talk with a doctor to learn exercises you can do safely. Make sure you eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D. Both of these are important for healthy bones. Your doctor might prescribe medication to help prevent further bone loss. Consult a spine doctor if the curve of your upper back causes pain or discomfort.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

I still have back pain, even after medication and physical therapy. Are there any non-surgical options left?

The back pain specialists at the OHSU Spine Center are experts at radiofrequency facet denervation (RFD). This treatment can relieve or greatly reduce pain without long-term medication or surgery.

During this procedure, your doctor gives you an injection to stop pain signals in the nerve that’s causing your pain. The doctor uses a special type of X-ray to guide the needle. An RFD treatment does not affect other nerves or the surrounding joint. RFD is one of the safest and most effective procedures available. It can relieve pain for 12-18 months. After RFD, your doctor prescribes a physical therapy program to help reduce pain and increase flexibility.

At the OHSU Spine Center, we offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for all back-related pain. Our specialists can help find the source of your pain and design a treatment plan just for you.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

I have chronic back pain. How can I be sure my rehabilitation program is working?

The healing process for back pain takes time, and you might not see results right away. That’s because with the right treatment, your spine can begin to heal and gain strength even before your pain is gone. The specialists at the OHSU Spine Center have a system to measure your progress in this gradual healing process. Because we can track how your strength and other physical abilities are improving, we can measure how well you are healing, and you’ll know your treatment is working.

At the OHSU Spine Center, we offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for all back-related pain. Our specialists can help find the source of your pain and design a treatment plan for you.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

My back recently started hurting. Should I stop exercising and take it easy while my back heals?

When you have back pain, you might think you should stop strenuous (hard) exercise or completely stop exercising. While this might seem like a good idea, it is actually very important to keep exercising and moving your back. Inactivity causes muscles to get smaller (atrophy) and become less flexible and strong. If you do it correctly, exercising can help your back function better and feel better.

To determine the source of your back pain and the best exercises for you, consult a spine specialist who will show you how to exercise properly. Your doctor will probably prescribe exercise that combines stretching, strengthening and aerobic activity. This can relieve back pain and help prevent future back injury.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

Could a back injury cause me to have leg pain?

Leg and back pain can be related, especially if you have a lower back injury. The lower back is a common spot for sprains, strains or a herniated (bulging) disc. You can also have disc or spine problems in your lower back as you get older.

When you have a lower back injury or problem, it can pinch spinal nerves. The pinched nerves send pain signals down your back into one or both legs. Leg pain caused by lower back problems often gets better with treatments such as ice, pain medication and stretching or strengthening exercises. But if your pain lasts longer than a few weeks, or your leg or foot starts feeling weak, see your doctor or spine specialist.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

I strained my back. Could it be a herniated disc that requires surgery?

Low back strain causes pain mainly in the back, sometimes in the buttocks and occasionally up and down the entire spine. Strains do heal over time with proper rest and physical therapy. If you have a herniated (bulging) disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc, you might have pain from your back into one or both legs. Pain can be severe but usually starts to get better within a few weeks.

You might need surgery if pain medications, heat and cold treatment, electrical stimulation, hydrotherapy (water therapy) and stretching don’t help your pain. You might also ask your doctor about surgery if your muscles get weaker or you can’t control your bladder or bowels. Visit our experienced staff of pain specialists, physical therapists and spine surgeons at the OHSU Spine Center and let us help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

I have shooting pain starting in my lower back and going all the way down my leg. Nothing I do seems to help. What should I do?

You might have sciatica (pain that travels down your sciatic nerve). This nerve runs down the back of your thigh. Most people simply describe it as leg pain. Putting pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause pain. The cause is usually a herniated (bulging) disc in your lower back.

You can help the pain by putting hot or cold packs on your back and taking and anti-inflammatory medications. Physical therapy can also help. Sciatica usually gets better on its own, but if your pain doesn’t go away or gets worse, your doctor might recommend steroid injections or surgery.

If you have sciatica and can’t get any relief, see a doctor. At the OHSU Spine Center, we offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for all back-related pain. Our team of experts includes pain specialists, physical therapists and spine surgeons.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

My steroid injections seem less effective than when I started receiving them. What should I do?

Epidural steroid injections are often used to treat pain in the arms or legs caused by “pinched” nerves in the spine. If something is pressing on a spinal nerve, this causes inflammation and pain. The steroids decrease inflammation and reduce pain but don’t fix the problem.

If your pain comes back, you might feel better after additional injections. But most doctors won’t give you more than a few injections each year in the same area. If your pain keeps coming back and the relief seems to wear off faster each time, your doctor might recommend surgery to relieve pressure on the spinal nerve.

Several types of surgery can relieve pain caused by a pinched nerve. Some are minimally invasive procedures that can often be done as an outpatient procedure (without an overnight hospital stay). Talk to your doctor about the best option for you.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

Since my back surgery three years ago, I?ve had nerve pain in my leg and nothing seems to help. Do I just need to learn to live with the pain?

Everyone is different, and there are many reasons why spine surgery might not relieve all your pain. Your doctor can examine you closely, ask questions about your pain and other symptoms, and do more tests. These can be:

  • An MRI
  • A CT scan
  • An EMG
  • Diagnostic injections

If your doctor still can’t find what is causing your pain, and you don’t get relief with other treatments, your doctor might recommend another surgery. This might relieve your pain. You and your doctor will determine the best treatment option for you.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, consult your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

My lower back has been aching for months. But I m afraid of surgery, so I haven't seen a doctor. What should I do?

Back pain is one of the most common medical concerns for people aged 45 to 64. It's also one of the most common reasons to miss work. Most people don’t need back surgery because physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications and other non-surgical treatments relieve pain and improve function.

If your back pain doesn’t go away, makes it hard to do everyday activities or causes discomfort most of the time, experts suggest seeing a doctor who specializes in spine diseases and injuries. It is best if the doctor works closely with doctors in medical specialties related to the spine, such as neurology (nerves). A spine specialist will examine you for any serious conditions and work with you to find the best treatment.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, talk with your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

Back Injury Prevention for Golfers

I'm a golfer. What do you recommend I do to avoid a back injury?

Starting to play golf again after a break, like the winter season, can increase your risk of back injuries and other problems. Your best injury protection is to start a daily program of stretching and core strengthening exercises as early as possible before you start golfing again. Choose stretches for your lower back, hips, gluteal muscles (buttocks) and hamstrings (back of the legs). Then add exercises that strengthen your abdominal (stomach) and back muscles.

To get started, call the OHSU Spine Center at 503 418-1988 for a free brochure on recommended stretches and exercises for golfers. If any of your exercises causes pain or you have an injury, call the back and spine experts at the OHSU Spine Center.

At the OHSU Spine Center, you have access to comprehensive diagnosis and treatment, including physical therapy and rehabilitation, for all back-related pain. Our specialists can help find the source of your pain and design a treatment plan just for you.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, talk with your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

Could my golf swing hurt my back?

It’s possible. If you play golf or racquet sports, you are more likely to be injured from the constant bending and twisting. If you only play sports on weekends, vacations or when time permits, your chances of injury could be higher.

If you exercise regularly and do stretching and strengthening exercises, you’re less likely to injure your back. That’s because your supporting muscles - which include the stomach muscles, hamstrings (back of the legs) and gluteals (buttocks) - are stronger and more flexible from regular conditioning.

If you’re worried about possible golf-related injuries, a sports medicine doctor can show you how to prevent them with proper conditioning and technique. The doctor can also recommend treatment for any golf injuries you might already have.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, talk with your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.

What can I do now to help prevent a back injury during spring golf season?

During rainy Oregon winters, many golfers go months without swinging a club. But being inactive can increase your risk of back injuries or other problems. This is especially true with golf, which involves constant bending and twisting motions.

A stretching program for your lower back, hips, gluteal muscles (buttocks) and hamstrings (back of the legs) can help strengthen the areas you use most in golf. Exercises that strengthen your abdominal (stomach) and back muscles can also help protect your back and improve your game.

At OHSU’s Spine Center, our team of experts can help with back injury prevention or current pain problems. To talk with an expert or enter to win a set of golf clubs, visit our booth at the Portland Golf Show Feb. 8-10 at the Oregon Convention Center.

OHSU Spine Center

If you have back pain, we can help you get back to an active, pain-free lifestyle. Call 503 418-9888 for an appointment.

This Q&A does not constitute medical advice. For specific medical advice on testing, evaluation or diagnosis, talk with your healthcare provider or a licensed healthcare professional.