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If you are experiencing low back pain, you are not alone. An estimated 75 to 85 percent of all Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime. Although low back pain can be quite debilitating and painful, in about 90 percent of all cases, pain improves without surgery. However, 50 percent of all patients who suffer from an episode of low back pain will have a recurrent episode within one year.
The Lumbar Spine
The lumbar spine (lower back) consists of five vertebrae in the lower part of the spine between the ribs and the pelvis. The bones (vertebrae) that form the spine in the back are cushioned by small discs. These discs are round and flat, with a tough, outer layer (annulus) that surrounds a jellylike material called the nucleus. Located between each of the vertebra in the spinal column, discs act as shock absorbers for the spinal bones. Thick ligaments attached to the vertebrae hold the pulpy disc material in place. Of the 31 pairs of spinal nerves and roots, five lumbar (L1-L5) and five sacral (S1-S5) nerve pairs connect beginning in the area of the lower back.
Common Causes of Low Back Pain
- Herniated Disc
- Lumbar Spinal Stenosis
If Surgery Is Necessary
When conservative treatment for low back pain does not provide relief, surgery may be needed. One may be a candidate for surgery if:
- Back and leg pain limits normal activity or impairs quality of life
- Progressive neurological deficits develop, such as leg weakness and/or numbness
- Loss of normal bowel and bladder functions
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Medication and physical therapy are ineffective
- The patient is in reasonably good health
If surgery is recommended, neurosurgeons have a variety of options available to help relieve pressure on the nerve roots. If there are several nerve roots and discs causing the pain or if there is degeneration and instability in the spinal column, the neurosurgeon may opt to fuse the vertebrae together with bone grafts and stabilize the vertebrae with instrumentation, including metal plates, screws, rods and cages. A successful fusion will prevent the disc from bulging or herniating again. Following a fusion procedure, a patient may gain restored mobility in the back, including the ability to bend over. He or she will most likely experience more mobility after surgery than before. In addition, the patient may require postoperative physical therapy.