neurosurgery for back pain
neurosurgery for back pain

How Neurosurgeons Can Play A Role In Treating Back And Spine Pain

Posted on June 30, 2023 by Henry Ford Health Staff

When you think of what neurosurgeons do, you might think brain surgery or skull-based operations. But it might surprise you to find out that according to Victor Chang, M.D., a neurosurgeon at Henry Ford Health, 80% of the cases that neurosurgeons deal with are actually spine related.

Neurosurgeons treat all parts of the spine – from lower back pain up to the neck. Subspecialties within neurosurgery allow these doctors to perform minimally invasive spine and skull base procedures as well as many common head and neck-related injuries including:

  • Herniated discs
  • Pinched nerves
  • Disc degeneration
  • Spinal bone spurs
  • Arthritis in the spine, back or neck

“Anytime there is a nerve that needs surgery, that’s where neurosurgeons come in,” says Dr. Chang. “Your spine is part of your central nervous system and the nerves that come out from the spine all play a part in your neurological function. Neurosurgeons have an understanding of how conditions like tumors or fractures impact the nerves – especially when it can compromise a patient’s neurological function.”

When someone comes in with a back or spine injury, a neurosurgeon is able to provide a unique perspective to make sure that person isn’t at risk of greater neurological injury.

Seeking Care For Back Pain

If you are experiencing back pain, talk with your primary care doctor first. Patients with back and spine pain issues are often referred to physical medicine and rehabilitation doctors (physiatrists) or orthopedic medicine doctors. These specialists often have a better understanding of the muscular and skeletal structures of the body. They can provide a variety of non-surgical treatment options, and can also refer patients to orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons if surgery is recommended.

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“Depending on the severity of your pain, options such as physical therapy, pain injections and medication can be used to help relieve your symptoms,” says Dr. Chang. “If you are suffering from a more severe injury or are experiencing significant pain, your doctor will use imaging such as x-ray, CAT scans or MRI scans to get a better sense of what is going on with your body.”

Based on your imaging, a neurosurgeon can determine if surgery would be beneficial to you. There are many factors that could influence this decision including:

  • Any weakness you are already feeling
  • A neurologic deficit caused by the injury
  • How you have been managing your conditions already
  • Your history of opioid use
  • Your pain level

Taking The Fear Out Of Back Surgery

“There is a very negative public perception surrounding back surgery,” says Dr. Chang. “While this might seem like a major operation, most procedures nowadays can be done minimally invasively and have a positive impact on your quality of life. Most people can get back to their normal routine (without pain) after a pretty uneventful recovery.”

The reality is, if other nonsurgical methods aren’t working for you, surgery might be your best chance at finding relief. If surgery is recommended by your neurosurgeon, talk with them about your concerns. 

Reviewed by Dr. Victor Chang, a neurosurgeon who sees patients at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Categories : FeelWell

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