If you’re experiencing that achy back feeling, you aren’t alone. The leading cause of disability in the U.S., back pain will affect 80 percent of Americans in their lifetime. Yet there’s likely a fix ― even if the cause is a serious and complex problem. It’s important to see a professional, however, so that they can determine the reason for your pain and recommend the proper treatment, say the spine experts at Marcus Neuroscience Institute and Miami Neuroscience Institute, both part of Baptist Health.
“I think there is a misconception that nothing can be done for back pain,” says Frank Vrionis, M.D., a neurosurgeon and director of the Marcus Neuroscience Institute at Boca Raton Regional Hospital. “But we have many alternatives for patients today. We offer the full spectrum of spine procedures, from the most complex spine deformity cases to the most basic.
“And because the vast majority of patients do not require surgery, we have numerous non-surgical treatments.”
The Institute is one of two Joint Commission-accredited comprehensive spine centers in Palm Beach County and one of just 101 in the nation. The recent addition of the Mazor X™ Robotic Guidance Platform to its arsenal makes it possible for surgeons to perform very precise minimally invasive procedures, particularly beneficial because less invasive techniques shorten hospital stays and reduce the risk of infection.
“The robot allows us to be extremely accurate, especially when placing hardware in the spine,” Dr. Vrionis says. “The margin of error is very small. There are times when 1 mm is all it takes to leave a person with weakness or a neurological problem. The more precise we can be, the better.”
Minimally invasive surgery can be used for a host of conditions, including degenerative disc disease, sciatica and the treatment of deformities, says Michael E. Gomez, M.D., neurosurgeon and director of Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery at Miami Neuroscience Institute.
“Spine surgery can cause a lot of apprehension in patients, mostly due to things they’ve heard from friends and relatives,” he says. “But with minimally invasive techniques, the recovery can be shortened. People can be back at work pretty quickly. And, in the end, we can see a really meaningful return to function.”
There are many reasons for back pain. Risk factors include:
- Aging – Wear and tear of the spinal column’s protective tissues and joints occurs over time and the spine loses flexibility.
- Osteoarthritis and Osteoporosis ― Also associated with aging, these problems can weaken the bones and thin the discs, which act as shock absorbers. The result can be compression fractures and painful herniated discs.
- Poor muscle tone and excess weight ― The back, particularly the lower back, bears the majority of your body’s weight. Being overweight strains the back, and a lack of exercise contributes to the problem.
- Traumatic injury ― A fall, a car accident, a sports injury all can damage the back, causing fractures, tears in ligaments and damage to surrounding muscle.
- Smoking ― Smoking can decrease blood flow to the spine and your odds of osteoporosis.
Other causes of back pain can be diseases such as cancer, a congenital defect of the spine such as scoliosis or spina bifida, spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal cord), and nerve problems. In addition, many pregnant women can attest to the strain that carrying a baby puts on their back, and simple things, like poor posture and bad body mechanics also contribute to back pain.
The Institutes’ multidisciplinary teams include pain medication specialists, physiatrists (specialists in rehabilitative medicine), nurses with neurologic certification and specially trained physical therapists. Because only a fraction of back problems are treated with surgery, non-surgical options include stem cell injections; pain management with nerve blocks, injections, medications and cognitive-behavioral therapy and more.
“We try to find solutions for patients that aren’t surgical,” Dr. Vrionis says. “But there really is no spinal procedure we don’t do from C-1 at the back of the head to the coccyx at the bottom of the spine. There’s really no need for anyone in our community to travel elsewhere to seek treatment for a back issue.”
The Institutes also participate in clinical trials and Dr. Vrionis is leading research with engineers from Florida Atlantic University, looking at biomechanical studies to analyze how different forces affect the spine.
If you’d like more information on the Marcus Neuroscience Institute’s spine program, call 561-955-4600 or click here. For information on the Miami Neuroscience Institute’s spine program, call 786-596-3876 or click here.