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Health Information Lower Back Pain:
When Do You Need Surgery?

Experts estimate that about 70 to 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime, with 30 percent having a major episode. Most of those episodes can be treated without surgery, but there are times when surgery may be your best option.

"With minimally invasive techniques, we can have you up and running in no time," says John E. O'Toole, MD, a neurosurgeon at Rush. "Because of faster recovery times, people are getting back to work and other regular daily activities quicker than before."

O'Toole notes, "Minimally invasive techniques, since they require much smaller incisions, reduced loss of blood and faster recovery times, are open to more patients, even some older adults, who wouldn't be candidates for more involved surgical procedures."

Is It Serious?
You should visit you doctor anytime you experience significant back pain. Some back pain can indicate nerve problems or be caused by "mechanical pain," when a specific part of the spine, such as a disc, ligament or joint is damaged and not working properly.

Other common causes of back pain are disorders resulting from abnormalities in the formation and growth of the skeleton, trauma to the spine caused by injury, nerve problems and problems caused by or during pregnancy.

Look for these red flags to determine whether your back pain may signal more serious medical problems that should be assessed by a specialist:

  • Low back pain that shoots into your legs. This may signal a neurological problem.
  • Neck pain that shoots into your arms, which may be the result of a "pinched" nerve.
  • Pain that worsens when you cough or sneeze.
  • Inability to control your bowel function or urination.
  • Difficulty urinating or passing a bowel movement.
  • A diagnosis of osteoporosis. For people with weakened bones, back pain may indicate a fracture.
  • Persistent or debilitating pain.
  • A history of cancer, for which back pain might indicate metastasis.

Don't ignore these symptoms. The earlier problems are diagnosed, the more successfully they can be treated.

Preventing Lower Back Pain
For minor back problems, prevention is the key. The best medicine is stronger stomach muscles. A regular routine of stomach strengthening exercises combined with stretching exercises can help prevent lower back pain.

  • Strengthen stomach muscles
  • Include regular stretching exercises
  • Know proper lifting techniques

Remember; strengthen the front to protect the back. For more information about strengthening your stomach and other core muscles to protect your back, read "At the Core of the Matter: Supporting the Spine."

Dr. O'Toole will be presenting more information on minimally invasive lower back surgery on Wednesday, April 25, 2007, at 6:00 p.m. in Room 994 of the Armour Academic Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. He will be joined by Kern Singh, MD, who will discuss the latest treatments for neck and arm pain.

Phone 888 352-RUSH (888 352-7874) for more information or to register. Or visit the Upcoming Events page. You can also use the registration request form to register online.

More Information at Your Fingertips:

  • For information on spine and back care at Rush visit the Spine and Back Center home page.
  • Looking for a doctor? Call toll free: 888 352-RUSH (7874)

Please note: All physicians featured in Discover Rush Online are on the medical faculty of Rush University Medical Center. Some of the physicians featured are in private practice and, as independent practitioners, are not agents or employees of Rush University Medical Center.

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Lower Back Pain:
When Do You Need Surgery?

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