Q: If I am experiencing back pain, what are some signs that would indicate that I should see a physician?
A: Call your health care provider if you have persistent, severe back pain, especially if you have also have numbness, loss of movement, weakness, or bowel or bladder changes.
Q: What is degenerative disc disease?
A: Degenerative disc disease is not really a disease but a term used to describe the changes of the discs in the spine resulting from chronic wear and tear, injury or simply aging. Spinal discs are compressible, soft discs that separate the bones that make up the spine. The discs act as shock absorbers for the spine, allowing it to flex, bend and twist. Changes to the discs can include loss of fluid in the discs, tears of the outer layer of the disc and growth of nerve fibers in the damaged discs.
Q: What is the difference between a herniated disc and a bulging disc?
A: A bulging disc occurs when the tough outer fibers of the spinal disc weaken and stretch allowing the "jelly center" of the disc to "bulge" outward. A bulging disc is generally considered the first step toward a herniated disc. A herniated (slipped) disc occurs when all or part of a spinal disc is forced through a weakened part of the disc, which places pressure on nearby nerves.
Q: What is spinal stenosis?
A: Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the spinal cord that causes pressure on the spinal cord, or narrowing of the openings (called neural foramina) where spinal nerves leave the spinal column. Spinal stenosis typically develops as a person ages and the discs become drier and start to shrink. At the same time, the bones and ligaments of the spine swell or grow larger due to arthritis or chronic inflammation. However, other problems, including infection and birth defects, can sometimes cause spinal stenosis.
Q: If I have chronic back pain, will I need back surgery?
A: Surgery is only recommended when nonsurgical methods have not provided adequate relief from the pain. Physicians will usually recommend treatments such as physical therapy, medications, coping skills, procedures and alternative medicine treatments before recommending surgery. In fact, according to the North America Spine Society, only one percent of back pain sufferers need surgery.