Ending Back Pain, Part II: “When Back Surgery Goes Bad”

Every year, America’s surgeons perform hundreds of thousands of back surgeries — it’s one of the most common surgical operations in the country. Discectomies, laminectomies, spinal fusions — the number of variations on ‘back surgery’ is amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that most of these surgeries are perfectly avoidable if the initial herniated or slipped disc is treated properly and promptly. Unfortunately, ‘proper’ treatment is a rarity in a medical environment where the response to pain is almost always ‘drug it away and rest a while’ and maybe get a little physical therapy. In many if not most of these cases, a trained neuromuscular therapist could have averted the need for surgery altogether.

Patients who have persistent pain or numbness after back surgery are rather tersely described as ‘surgical failures’, and their problems are known as ‘failed back surgery syndrome’. It’s chronic, because once your body is altered by surgery, there’s no way back. Re-operation is complicated at best and has chances of making things significantly worse. For many who attempt re-operation, the final option is to have a device implanted into their spine to quell the pain.

In short, back surgery should be reserved only for cases where a flaw with the spine is causing pressure against a nerve root, and the affected limb is suffering numbness, muscle atrophy, or constant pain as a result.

That’s because, if those aren’t your symptoms, the chances are approaching 100% that you’re able to get a non-surgical cure that doesn’t come with all of the risks of surgery. The vast majority of back pain is caused by musculoskeletal problems — if you’ve injured a muscle, tendon, ligament, joint, or disc in your back and never had a neuromuscular professional examine you, it’s probably still affecting you. Subtle changes in the way you stand, sit, and move due to long-forgotten injuries cause a surprising amount of pain — pain that can’t be corrected by surgery. Heck, for some people, a simple anti-inflammatory supplement can end a startling amount of back pain.

That’s why a neuromuscular therapist is the right person to talk to – they’re able to identify muscle imbalances and postural issues and help you correct them, even if you need special support in accessing and ‘undoing’ certain muscle groups in order to do it. With a combination of trigger point therapy, alignment exercises, and flexibility, strength, and endurance-building, they’re able to guide your body back to its ‘normal’, correct posture and end many if not most cases of chronic low back pain with much less cost than surgery.


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