Back & Spine Problems and Treatments
Your back is a complex structure of highly sensitive nerves, small joints and discs, as well as tendons, muscles and tissue. A problem with any one of these components can cause back pain. In fact, most people have back pain at some point in their lives.
Because of the complexity of the human back, treatment may require specially trained spine surgeons and a multidisciplinary team. At the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, our orthopedists in the Spinal Surgery Center offer comprehensive and compassionate care for a wide range of back and spine problems, from degenerative discs, to osteoporosis and spinal stenosis.
Treatment often begins with rest, back exercises and medications. Surgery is usually considered only after conservative treatments have failed to end your back pain.
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We specialize in back problems, including:
Degenerative Disc Disease
Discs are soft tissue with jelly-like centers that separate the vertebrae bones on your spine. They slowly dry out and break down with age, narrowing the space between vertebras. In response, the body sometimes creates growths called bone spurs off the vertebrae. They can put pressure on nerves and cause pain. Degenerative discs are usually treated with anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and back exercises. Sometimes, the doctor may recommend removing the damaged disc. Surgeons may also recommend fusing the two vertebrae together to stabilize the spine.
When a disc in your spine is damaged, it can bulge or break open. These herniated or ruptured discs can press on nerves in your spine, causing pain and numbness. Herniated discs often heal naturally within a few months. During healing, it may help to do exercises to strengthen your back muscles, use a heating pad or ice pack on the sore part of your back, and take medication to ease pain and swelling. Doctors may recommend surgery if your back does not get better over time, or if the pain stops you from working or doing normal activities. In a discectomy or microdiscectomy, surgeons remove the herniated disc. Sometimes, the surgeon will also do a laminectomy or laminotomy, which relieves pressure on the spinal cord by removing a part of the vertebrae called lamina.
Osteoporosis is thinning of the bones that can happen as we age. Medications can help slow or even prevent this process. However, once the vertebras in your back thin and weaken, they can fracture and collapse. These are spinal compression fractures, and eventually they can cause pain and a hump in the upper back. Some people wear back braces to help keep the back stable as it heals. A doctor may recommend surgery if the collapsed vertebrae is pressing on the spinal cord or nerves.
Scoliosis is an S or C curve in the spine that usually starts in childhood. Sometimes scoliosis improves on its own. If the curve is significant, the doctor may suggest a back brace. In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery. During surgery, the doctor attaches rods to the spine to straighten the spine or prevent further curving.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal in the back or the neck. It happens when bone or tissue starts to grow in the openings of vertebrae, sometimes due to arthritis. Spinal stenosis can cause pain, numbing and weakness, often in the legs, feet or buttocks. Back exercises, pain medication and physical therapy often help relieve pain and improve mobility. The doctor may recommend surgery, if needed, to relieve pressure on the nerve roots in your spine. Decompressive laminectomy is the most common surgery for spinal stenosis. It removes bone or tissue to relieve pressure on the nerve roots in the spine. Sometimes the surgeon will also recommend spinal fusion to help keep the spine stable.
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