80-90% of Americans experience debilitating back pain at some point in their lives. For many, it will go away with rest and conservative treatments, but for some, surgery is the only option. 500,000 Americans have spine surgery each year for low back problems alone.
Even when everything goes well with surgeries, there’s always a small chance that you’ll continue to feel some pain after your recovery period. This doesn’t necessarily mean the surgery didn’t work. The pain you feel might be related to recovery. Every body is different, and every person’s body responds differently to surgical procedures. If your pain is continuing long after a standard recovery period, however, it might be time to look into some possible pain management solutions.
Common Types of Back Surgery
Two of the most common types of back surgery are discectomies and spinal fusions. Surgery is often a possible solution to back pain, but sometimes it can instead lead to other chronic pain. Understanding these procedures — especially if you’ve had one — can better help you understand your pain.
A discectomy is a surgery that aims to remove all or part of a herniated disc. A herniated disc (also known as a bulging disc, slipped disc, ruptured disc, or disc prolapse) is characterized by pain that radiates into your limbs from the spine when the damaged disc presses on a nerve.
If home treatments, steroid injections, and physical therapy don’t work, your doctor may recommend a discectomy. During this surgery, only part or all of the disc that’s compressing the nerve may be removed. Full recovery usually takes 6-8 weeks.
If pain lasts longer than the standard recovery period, it might be time to see a pain management specialist.
There are 3 reasons why your doctor might recommend spinal fusion:
- To correct a malformed spine
- To strengthen a weakened spine
- To stabilize your spine after a discectomy
As the name suggests, spinal fusion connects 2 pieces of vertebrae together. Full recovery may take several months. The normal pain and discomfort from spinal fusion surgery can usually be controlled with over-the-counter pain medications. If pain lasts longer than the standard recovery period, it might be time to see a pain management specialist.
Possible Causes of Continued Pain After Surgery
Surgical recovery is rarely, if ever, instantaneous. Even minimally invasive surgery will require rest as your spine heals. Surgery causes inflammation, which needs time to calm down.
But sometimes the pain continues after the normal recovery period has passed, even if the surgery itself was successful. Or you experience new pain. There are several possible reasons for this:
- The surgery worked, but a new problem has developed, including a new disc herniation, degenerated disc, instability, or poor posture
- Scar tissue formation
- Nerve damage that occurred before the back surgery
- Fusion failure
- New repetitive stress injuries
In addition to the pain itself, new problems (such as anxiety, depression, and prescription drug addiction) can develop when surgery doesn’t relieve pain. It’s important to look at the bigger picture to address and treat these problems, too.
At The Heilman Center for Spine and Pain Treatment, we will address all facets of your pain, including:
- Finding and treating the cause of your continued pain
- The emotional aspects that have arisen due to your chronic pain
- Your relationship with pain medications
The Best Solutions for Continued Pain After Back Surgery
At the Heilman Center, we take a holistic approach to your continued back pain. We see you as a whole person, not just a collection of symptoms. We’ll start with a detailed history of you and your pain, make a diagnosis, and work with you to come up with the right treatment plan.
It’s important for us to identify the reason for your continued pain so we know what we’re treating and how to make it better. Your custom treatment plan may include physical therapy, psychological or emotional support, new medications, and/or one of the following state-of-the-art procedures.
Spinal Cord Stimulator Implant/Neuromodulation
Spinal cord stimulation, or neuromodulation, is a surgically placed device about the size of a stopwatch. You and your doctor will do a trial of spinal cord stimulation with a temporary device to make sure it’s right for you.
In neuromodulation, wires attached to a receiver are placed between your spinal cord and vertebrae. Antennae connected to the receiver are left outside your body. You are given a remote control that activates the implant when necessary. When you feel pain, the stimulator replaces the sensation with a light tingling sensation. This not only reduces pain but also the need for pain medications.
The surgery takes about 2 ½ hours and is done under general anesthesia. You can usually expect full recovery from spinal cord stimulator insertion after 1-2 weeks. The device stays on 24 hours a day and the battery usually lasts about 10 years.
Neuroablation: Cryoablation or Radiofrequency Ablation
Neuroablation interrupts the signal between the source of pain and the brain or removes neural structures that contribute to pain. This is accomplished by one of two means: cryoablation or radiofrequency ablation.
Cryoablation involves identifying the target nerve and delivering liquid nitrogen or argon gas to freeze it. This will interrupt the nerve’s ability to send pain signals to the brain and provide pain relief. While not a permanent solution, it can provide pain relief for up to a year and can be repeated as necessary.
The opposite of cryoablation, radiofrequency ablation involves heating the nerve to interrupt the pain signals. As with cryoablation, the procedure can last up to a year and can be repeated as necessary.
Neither cryoablation nor radiofrequency ablation affects healthy nerves. They are both quick, outpatient procedures with minimal recovery time and little to no side effects.
The Heilman Center for Pain and Spine Care is Here to Help
Surgery is meant to relieve you from a life of pain, but sometimes you need more. That’s where the Heilman Center for Pain and Spine Care comes in. Our pain specialists are here to listen, diagnose, and come up with a treatment plan that’s right for you.
We want you to feel better. Call today at 734-725-2009 or contact us online to get started on your road to recovery.