What is Facet Nerve Ablation?
Those who are seeking degenerative disc disease treatments have probably come across facet nerve ablation in their searches. But, is this an effective method of treating your degenerative disc disease symptoms?
For many, facet nerve ablation reduces painful symptoms much longer than conservative treatments or medications. But, how exactly does it work?
Before we delve into the specifics, let’s take a closer look at degenerative disc disease and how it causes discomfort.
A Quick Look at Your Spine
Your spinal column, made up of 33 vertebrae, houses the spinal cord and helps support the body and its many movements. The spinal column is divided into four main regions:
- Cervical (neck)
- Thoracic (chest/upper back)
- Lumbar (lower back)
- Sacral (pelvic region)
Of course, the spinal column is more than just a series of bones stacked upon each other. A complex system of muscles, tendons, ligaments, facet joints, and intervertebral discs support the spine and allow nerves to branch out from the spinal cord. Furthermore, all of this structure enables the brain to communicate effectively with the rest of the body.
Unfortunately, despite the major responsibilities of the spine, it is nonetheless prone to injury. This can be due to poor personal habits, the effects of aging, or trauma to the area. For instance, when the spine’s structure is altered, it can compress the nerves exiting from the spinal column. This can lead to painful and debilitating conditions that require immediate treatment.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
In between most of your vertebrae are circular discs that absorb the shock of your everyday movements. Intervertebral discs consist of a tough outer layer surrounded by a gel-like inner layer. As we age, these discs begin to dry out and lose their shape. In some cases, this can cause pain, spinal instability, and other neurological symptoms like burning or reduced sensation.
But, the degeneration of our discs is not actually a disease. Yes, despite the name.
Degenerative disc disease is somewhat of a misleading label. It’s intended to be descriptive of the natural erosion of the discs resulting from wear and tear. As such, disc degeneration is most common in the neck and lower back. Why? Because these areas must cope with the greatest amount of stress while you go about your daily life.
Does degenerative disc disease mean that the pain will get worse as you get older?
“Degenerative” refers to the degrading of the disc—not the worsening of symptoms. You may be surprised to find out, in some cases, that symptoms actually improve over time. This is known as the degenerative cascade.
In a nutshell, this means, at first, you may experience painful symptoms that limit your function. Over time, however, the instability of the disc and surrounding vertebrae can lead to back or neck pain that comes and goes. Then, as this portion of the spine re-stabilizes itself, pain becomes less frequent. Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. The entire process can take up to thirty years.
Thirty years is obviously a long time to wait for pain relief.
Luckily, there are several degenerative disc treatments that can manage symptoms and stabilize the area.
Let’s take a look at some of the common degenerative disc disease symptoms that you may be experiencing.
What Does Degenerative Disc Disease Feel Like?
In many cases, degenerative disc disease occurs in the neck or lower back. These areas of the spine have more flexibility to support the body’s movements. Generally, those who are dealing with degenerative disc disease feel continuous, low-grade pain and occasional flare-ups of severe pain. Acute bursts of pain can be due to bouts of recent activity, but sometimes the cause may unknown.
In addition to the pain, you may experience:
- A “giving out” or “locking” feeling. This could feel like the neck or back is not strong enough to support your movements.
- Muscle spasms or tension. As mentioned earlier, the spine and nearby muscles are connected. Instability of the spine can affect the functioning of these muscles.
- Radiating pain. If a nerve is compressed or injured due to spinal instability, you may feel sharp, stabbing pain in other areas of the body. For example, a damaged disc in the neck can lead to pain in the shoulder, arm, or hand. Lower back degeneration may cause pain in the hips, buttocks, and down the leg.
- Fluctuating pain while holding or changing positions. Those who change positions frequently may experience less pain. Conversely, sitting or standing for long periods of time can worsen lower back pain. Also, reading or using mobile devices for extended periods of time can cause a spike in neck pain.
The severity of chronic pain will vary from person to person. Some individuals feel little to no baseline pain. Others may deal with severe, disabling pain.
So how can you get pain relief? Let’s look at some options.
Conservative Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments
There are some self-care approaches that you can take to manage degenerative disc disease pain at home. The goal of these treatments is to reduce pain, thereby making your daily activities more tolerable.
Here are some things you can do:
- Heat therapy. A warm bath or heating pad can reduce muscle tension and spasms. The heat relaxes nearby muscles and also increases blood flow to the area.
- Icing the area. A cold pack can aid with pain relief by reducing inflammation. If you experience a pain flare-up after exercising or physical activity, try icing the area.
- Over-the-counter medications. Before trying more powerful and potentially habit-forming prescription drugs, consider over-the-counter pain medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can reduce pain and inflammation in the affected area.
- Manual manipulation. A chiropractor, licensed massage therapist, or another spine specialist can manually adjust the spine. As a result, you may experience temporary pain relief and more movement to the area.
- Exercise. Keeping the muscles near the spine healthy and flexible assists in supporting the spine. A physical therapist can help you develop an exercise routine that improves the strength and flexibility of your neck and back.
Have you tried these degenerative disc treatments with little or no success? Maybe it’s time to consider facet nerve ablation.
What is Facet Nerve Ablation?
Your nerves send and receive information to the brain. This includes alerting the brain that something is wrong by sending pain signals. For example, if you put your hand under scalding water, the pain signals tell you to quickly remove your hand. This rapid response is designed to prevent major injuries.
Facet nerve ablation—or radiofrequency ablation—uses a needle to create a heat lesion on a pain-transmitting nerve. The lesion prevents the nerve from dispatching pain signals to the brain. Moreover, this minimally invasive procedure is relatively safe with few side effects.
But, nerves are important. Right? So, why would we want to injure or stun them?
In the case of degenerative disc disease treatment, facet nerve ablation has important advantages. It may be a long-term solution to managing pain which decreases the need for strong—and potentially dangerous—pain medications. In some cases, radiofrequency ablation can help reduce neck and back pain for up to six months or sometimes even longer.
This reduction in pain can allow you to participate in (and stick with) a physical therapy or rehabilitation program which ultimately increases your strength, flexibility, and range of motion. So, as the effects of radiofrequency ablation gradually wear off, you still can become stronger and have more stability in the spine.
What Happens During Facet Nerve Ablation?
Facet nerve ablation lasts up to 90 minutes. What happens during this time? Let’s take a look at the procedure.
You will be asked to lay on your stomach during the procedure. In some cases, you may be given mild sedation, but you will be kept awake during the procedure. This allows you to describe what you are feeling during the stimulation and lesioning of the nerve.
Using a small camera, the doctor guides a radiofrequency ablation (RFA) needle toward the affected nerves. Once placed, an electrode is inserted through the needle. A small electrical current then passes through to the target nerve. This stimulates the nerve and briefly recreates the symptoms you tend to feel. Once the target nerve is confirmed, a heat lesion is created on it. This can be performed by different RFA methods including:
- Conventional: Continuous high-voltage current that heats the needle between 140 and 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Pulsed: Short bursts of high-voltage current with phases of rest. Pulsed RFA needles usually heat up to about 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Water-cooled: The needle is heated up to 140 degrees, but is cooled by a continuous flow of water. Water helps to regulate the flow of the current and prevent overheating of the needle.
Conventional and pulsed methods are great for small, well-defined lesions. The water-cooled method creates larger lesions. Talk to your doctor about which method is best for your specific condition.
Recovering from RFA
After RFA, you will be placed in a recovery room for up to an hour. Medical professionals will monitor your vital signs and any post-procedure symptoms. You may experience numbness or a superficial burning after RFA. In most cases, you will be able to go home the same day, but you will need someone to drive.
In the first couple of days after an RFA treatment, you may need to use an ice pack to numb pain and reduce swelling at the injection site. Also, warm showers are preferred over baths. Likewise, you may need to rest a few days before returning to your normal activities.
Pain relief usually starts a week or two after RFA. As your symptoms subside, your doctor may recommend physical therapy as part of your rehabilitation.
Is Facet Nerve Ablation Right for You?
There are plenty of degenerative disc disease treatments available to relieve pain. So when should you consider facet nerve ablation? A good indicator is when conservative treatments don’t seem to be helping. Facet nerve ablation can be a great alternative to surgery or, at the very least, delay surgery to accommodate your busy lifestyle.
Ready to learn more about this procedure and how it can help you? Our doctors at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery use the latest research, technology, and treatments to reduce or eliminate your pain.
Schedule a consultation today by calling (855) 853-6542. By answering a few simple questions right now, we can start the process of managing your pain and spinal issues.
Top-Rated Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments
Are you suffering from neck or back pain? Has your doctor indicated that your pain may be related to discs in your spine? If so, you’re likely wondering: What degenerative disc treatments are best for me?
You’ve probably been pouring over articles (just like this one!) on the internet about it. Maybe well-intentioned friends and family have even offered some good (or even possibly bad) advice.
Of course, the best treatment for you depends on your condition. For example, how severe is the damage? What part of the spine (cervical, thoracic, or lumbar) is affected? And, are any nerves malfunctioning as a result? Believe it or not, irritated nerve tissue (and not the disc itself) causes the pain associated with degenerative disc disease.
But before we dive more fully into treatments, let’s take a closer look at intervertebral discs themselves and how they might become damaged. Understanding the cause of your problem will empower you to make the most informed decision about your healthcare.
What is Degenerative Disc Disease?
Between each bone of the spine (or vertebra) lies a rubbery, circular disc that resembles a tire. Intervertebral discs consist of a tough outer layer known as the annulus fibrosus. Inside, the disc you will find a jelly-like substance referred to as the nucleus pulposus.
What do these discs do other than mimic a jelly donut in appearance?
These structures act as shock absorbers. Every time you walk, move, or even sit, your discs keep the vertebrae from rubbing against each other. They also protect the spinal cord—the superhighway of nerves connecting the brain to the rest of your body—from irreversible insult. Since these discs maintain spinal structure, they also function to protect nerves that exit through openings in the vertebrae.
Over time, however, these discs can lose their shape. The outer layer begins to deteriorate, which changes the structure of both individual discs and the spine as a whole. These changes often apply pressure on the spinal cord and adjacent nerves, causing pain and other neurological symptoms.
Unfortunately, discs (like most cartilaginous structures) receive only a weak blood supply. This means that once injured, they cannot repair themselves like other tissues in the body. The gradual breakdown of intervertebral discs is known as degenerative disc disease (DDD).
But wait: Is DDD an actual disease?
The name of this condition may be confusing. DDD is not a disease. Instead, it is a description of a set of symptoms that cause pain. So how do you know if you have degenerative disc disease? Review the warning signs below to find out!
Degenerative Disc Disease Symptoms
The spine (with its system of nerves) is a complex structure that runs through most of your body. Depending on the location and severity of your disc issues, you may experience a variety of symptoms. Although disc problems commonly occur in the lower back and neck, your mid-back can also be affected.
Degenerative disc disease symptoms may include:
- Pain in the neck or back that ranges from nagging to disabling
- Back pain that radiates into the buttocks or thighs
- Neck pain that radiates through the arms and hands
- Increased pain while sitting
- Worsening pain while twisting, lifting, or bending
- Periods of severe pain that come and go—sometimes lasting up to a few months
- Tingling or numbness in the arms and hands and/or legs and feet
- Pain that abates while walking or moving
- You feel better when changing positions or lying down
- Weakness in the leg muscles or foot
Degenerative disc disease treatments can ease these symptoms. Seeking successful treatment, however, means understanding the underlying causes of degenerative disc disease.
Degenerative Disc Disease Causes
As mentioned earlier, DDD isn’t an actual disease. It’s a label applied to a disc that has lost its structural integrity and causes pain. This can occur for a variety of reasons.
For many, the primary culprit is the effects of aging. At birth, these discs are about 80% water. As the years pass, discs tend to dry out and lose their ability to absorb shock effectively.
Likewise, participation in certain sports and activities can cause disc breakdown. Unfortunately, contact sports and other physically demanding activities may eventually take their toll on your spine. In time, the discs may weaken, flatten, or break down as they struggle to withstand the shock.
Sudden trauma or injuries may also adversely alter a disc’s structure. Car accidents or sudden falls may cause the disc’s inner layer (the nucleus pulposus) to break through the damaged outer layer. Known as a bulging or herniated disc, this can apply pressure on nearby nerve roots or even on the spinal cord itself.
What are some risk factors that contribute to degenerative disc disease?
- Occupations that involve heavy lifting
- Participating in contact sports
- Sudden injuries that affect the spine
- A family history of back pain or musculoskeletal disorders
- Weak core muscles
- Poor posture
- Occupations or activities that involve prolonged sitting
Now that you have a better understanding of the discs and how they may become injured, let’s look at some degenerative disc disease treatments.
Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments You Should Know About
Once it’s been determined that you’re dealing with degenerative disc disease, you’ll want to know what treatments are available.
There are several degenerative disc disease treatments, ranging from conservative to surgical. Treatment goals include decreasing or eliminating pain, making the spine more stable, and maintaining or improving mobility to the affected areas.
Oftentimes, a combination of treatments can be used to achieve these goals. Finding an orthopedic doctor who collaborates with different disciplines may be the most effective method of treating your degenerative disc disease symptoms.
Ready to learn about treatments? We thought so.
Non-Surgical Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments
Most people start with more conservative treatments to manage their pain. These approaches often include:
If you’re dealing with mild to moderate pain, over-the-counter medications may be effective. This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen. These drugs block the enzymes that promote inflammation. As a result, pain and inflammation are reduced. In addition, over-the-counter acetaminophen interferes with the pain signals sent to the brain.
Those who are dealing with more severe pain, however, may need even more powerful medications. Prescription pain medications like muscle relaxants or narcotic painkillers can ease intense, short-term pain. Be warned: Some of these medications can be habit-forming. Take them exactly as prescribed. Those with a history of substance abuse or addiction may need to use extra caution if prescribed these drugs.
Hot and Cold Therapy
Those with mild pain may find applying heat or cold to the area to be an effective form of pain relief. Applying ice packs during pain flare-ups can reduce inflammation and numb the area. Heating pads or packs, on the other hand, relax the muscles and improve circulation to the area. This added circulation may accelerate the healing process.
Changes to Your Lifestyle
As mentioned earlier, there are some lifestyle choices that may be contributing to your degenerative disc disease pain. Obtaining the proper amount of exercise can promote health and strengthen affected muscles. A healthy diet can make you feel better and reduce inflammation in the body. And, quitting smoking or using other tobacco products may slow down the rate of disc degradation.
A licensed massage therapist has an intimate knowledge of musculoskeletal conditions. He or she learns techniques that assist in reducing tension in the neck and lower back. In addition, a massage can ease pressure on the spine and increase blood flow to the area. Muscle spasms related to changes in the structure of the spine can also be alleviated with a massage.
A physical therapist plays several roles in degenerative disc disease treatment. After a thorough evaluation, a physical therapist creates an individualized treatment plan based on your symptoms and condition. These plans often include manual manipulation as well as prescribed exercises to stretch and strengthen the affected areas. Changes in the spine can affect a variety of muscles in the back or neck. Degenerative disc disease exercises to target specific muscles affected by your injured discs. Following a prescribed exercise routine can reduce pain as well as increase your mobility.
Also, a physical therapist can suggest changes to your daily activities that reduce painful flare-ups. You may also receive ideas for adaptive equipment like ergonomic chairs or back braces that can provide daily relief.
If oral medications and physical therapy don’t seem to be helping, a therapeutic injection may be your next step. Injections allow doctors to deliver medicine directly to the source of pain. Therapeutic injections don’t correct structural issues in the spine, however. They are limited in that one respect. These injections can, nevertheless, allow you to live pain-free for weeks or even months at a time. Common therapeutic injections include epidurals, nerve blocks, trigger point injections, or facet joint injections.
Surgical Degenerative Disc Disease Treatments
Before we get into surgical treatments, there is something else you should know.
Most people don’t need surgery for degenerative disc disease. Many people can achieve pain relief using the degenerative disc disease treatments described above. If these treatments don’t seem to help after several months, however, then surgery may be recommended.
So what happens during degenerative disc disease surgery?
This often depends on how badly your discs are damaged, what nerves are affected, and the structural damage to your spine.
Some surgical procedures to repair changes from degenerative disc disease include:
- Discectomy: Removing part of the disc that presses on an inflamed nerve. Sometimes this can be performed as a minimally invasive microdiscectomy.
- Spinal Fusion: After a disc is removed, the surgeon may need to place bone grafts and other instrumentation in the disc space so the spinal bones can fuse together. This will increase the stability of the spine.
- Artificial Disc Replacement: The surgeon inserts a prosthetic spacer in place of a removed disc. This can be a great alternative to spinal fusion surgery, especially for younger patients. Artificial disc replacement allows more flexibility in the spine compared to spinal fusion.
Thanks to advancing medical technology, some of these surgeries can be performed as minimally invasive procedures.
What does this mean for you?
Minimally invasive procedures offer several benefits including:
- Smaller scars
- Less damage to surrounding tissue
- Reduced postoperative pain
- Quicker recovery times
- Less reliance on narcotic pain medications
- The ability to return home after surgery sooner
What Degenerative Disc Treatment is Right for You?
Do you want to know how to find the best treatment? Schedule a consultation with an orthopedic doctor who specializes in issues related to degenerative disc disease.
Not sure where to turn? Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery has a team of professionals who specialize in both conservative and surgical options for treating degenerative disc disease.
Have you tried some of these treatments without success? Sometimes, all you need is a second opinion on how to best treat your pain. If you’ve undergone any recent diagnostic tests, you could easily and securely send us those results online. Our orthopedic specialists will take a look at them and give you a second opinion as well as treatment recommendations.
Let us help you regain control of your life. By filling out a simple survey on our website, you can get started on your path to recovery today!
5 Bulging Disc Symptoms You Should Know
It’s a popular misconception that bulging discs are the same as herniated (or “slipped”) discs. And, as far as spinal problems go, each issue does fall within the same category. The conditions even boast similar symptoms, and in some cases, they share the same root causes.
Considering these facts, it’s no wonder that people often confuse the two for one another. At the end of the day, however, follow this simple piece of advice: Seek out medical treatment if your symptoms persist over a period of two weeks or more.
Naturally, the most common similarity between these conditions is the area of the body that they affect. As you have perhaps guessed, each of these ailments results in damage to the body’s discs. For context, intervertebral discs are spongy structures that rest between the bony vertebrae of the spine. They are essentially akin to jelly donuts. They have a hard outer shell with a softer filling in the center.
Similar to how synovial fluid lubricates your joints, discs serve as a special type of cushion in between your vertebrae. These rubber spacers increase the flexibility of your spine and safeguard it from damage. When these structures suffer injury, however, it can result in a slew of painful symptoms.
Luckily, there are plenty of both conservative and surgical treatments available for bulging discs. Usually, surgery is not necessary, but if less invasive methods prove ineffective, then your doctor may consider a special procedure to treat your symptoms. For more information about your options, please contact Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery at (855) 853-6542.
What Causes Bulging Discs?
A lot of problems involving the discs of the spine are traceable to natural degenerative processes. Your spine is a complex structure with many moving parts that work in tandem to achieve even the most basic forms of movement. Like all things mechanical, repetitive use of any system eventually results in the parts becoming damaged. Of course, you have no choice but to use your spine on a daily basis. Degeneration just comes as a natural part of the aging process.
It would be incorrect to assume, however, that degeneration is the only way to fall victim to a bulging disc. While everyone experiences some form of age-related wear and tear that doesn’t mean everyone develops a bulging disc. That being said, you may experience a bulging disc because of trauma from events such as a car accident or fall. Additionally, there are other risk factors that contribute to the formation of bulging discs. These include factors such as genetic predisposition and congenital disc deformities, for example.
So, what exactly is a bulging disc? A bulging disc refers to an instance in which outside pressure on the structure results in the disc ballooning outward. Similar to a herniated disc, this distension can cause pressure on adjacent nerve endings, or in some cases, even the spinal cord itself. In rare instances, this causes no symptoms at all, meaning that you could have a bulging disc and not even know it. In other instances, however, the patient may experience a slew of negative symptoms that interfere with his or her everyday life.
Signs That You May Have a Bulging Disc
Bulging discs typically occur at the cervical (neck) and thoracic (mid) levels of the spine. The location of the condition is relevant, as it affects the symptoms you may experience. Generally speaking, however, you should watch out for the five following symptoms:
- Pain: This should be obvious, but it is important to note that pain in and of itself has interesting properties—especially when it comes to issues regarding the spine. Pain for a bulging disc may have a sudden or delayed onset. Additionally, depending on which nerves are pressured, it may even feel as if the pain is coming from elsewhere in the body, such as the extremities or your heart and kidneys. The pain may even appear to move around and radiate to other areas in the body, such as the arms and legs.
- Loss of Bladder/Bowel Functions: This is quite rare, but if you notice this symptom, seek out medical attention immediately. This symptom can indicate oncoming (and potentially permanent) paralysis of the limbs.
- Paralysis: You probably won’t experience this with your bulging disc, but if you do, your legs are more likely to be affected than your arms. If you experience this symptom, contact a doctor immediately.
- Muscle Weakness/Numbness: There is a good chance that the nerves affected by a bulging disc innervate muscles elsewhere in the body. When this happens, the muscles served by these nerves may weaken and lose sensation.
- Neurological Symptoms: Bulging discs are also known to cause tingling or “pins and needles” sensations in one or both legs. This is quite common, however, and not considered a serious complication like some of the items above.
How Are Bulging Discs Diagnosed?
If the doctor suspects that you have a bulging disc, there is a general set of steps that he or she will take to confirm a diagnosis. First of all, your doctor will ask you a series of questions involving your medical history as well as the nature of your symptoms.
After this questionnaire, your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination. This serves as a bit of an elaboration to the questions regarding your symptoms. Your doctor will evaluate your condition by performing specific motions or applying pressure to certain areas. Doing so allows your doctor to determine the location and severity of your pain. In addition, your doctor may also check the reflexes in your arms and legs to test for atrophied muscles.
Once your doctor has established a general idea of what is going on, he or she will order a series of diagnostic tests. Usually, with bulging discs, this means either a simple X-ray test or an MRI. Tests such as these not only confirm a diagnosis (once symptoms have been established), but they will also provide your doctor with an unobstructed view of the damaged structures.
Bulging Disc Treatment Options
As with most medical problems, bulging disc treatments can be divided into conservative and surgical options. Again, most of the time surgery is not necessary and typically your doctor will exhaust all conservative options before opting for a procedure. As far as conservative treatments go, there are a variety of viable options. For example, nerve root blocks and steroid injections will provide the patient with temporary relief for up to one year. (And, of course, this is a repeatable treatment). Over-the-counter pain medications may also provide adequate relief for patients with a bulging disc. In some cases, your doctor may even install a spinal cord stimulator to lessen the painful symptoms that occur with bulging discs.
But what if these methods don’t work? Generally, there are two common surgical procedures that doctors perform for bulging discs. Minimally invasive decompression surgery is a popular option that has a high success rate. As you might imagine, the goal of this procedure is to lessen the pressure that a bulging disc causes on adjacent spinal nerves. Your doctor accomplishes this feat by removing either infringing soft tissues (such as disc material) or offending bone matter (such as the lamina). By removing these structures that cause pressure on nearby nerves, negative symptoms begin to dissipate.
The other common procedure doctors perform for bulging discs is fusion. This shares a similar goal with decompression surgery. For instance, the doctor will remove damaged disc tissue that presses on nearby nerves. However, fusion also involves fusing bones together in order to increase stability in the spine. As you can guess, this naturally requires more specialized hardware. Like decompression surgery, this procedure may also be performed in a minimally invasive fashion. If possible, this offers a faster recovery time and is considered generally safer than traditional open surgery.
Are you experiencing any of the negative symptoms mentioned above? If so, it’s not a bad idea to get in touch with Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery. At our facilities, you will find highly trained, board-certified surgeons as well as a passionate medical staff. Our team will work tirelessly to ensure that you receive an individualized treatment plan that works best for the specifics of your case. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. We will make sure that you are able to return to your normal activities as soon as possible.
6 Types of Spinal Decompression Surgery
Spinal nerve compression can cause pain, weakness, and other serious neuromuscular issues. For some, the best answer to ensure symptom relief is surgery.
Of course, surgery can be intimidating—especially when it involves the spine. What exactly happens when you undergo surgery for your spinal nerve compression? Spinal decompression surgery actually refers to a variety of procedures. The best procedure for you will depend on the cause of your symptoms.
Let’s take a look at what causes spinal nerve compression. Then, you can get a better understanding of the types of surgeries that can relieve this painful (and sometimes dangerous) condition.
What is Spinal Nerve Compression?
A variety of factors can cause spinal nerve compression. In general, doctors refer to any condition that applies pressure to the spinal cord or nerve roots as spinal nerve compression.
As you probably know, the spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries messages between your brain and the rest of the body. The spinal cord is protected by a series of bones known as vertebrae. Collectively, these bones make up the spinal column. The spinal column contains a “tunnel”—known as the spinal canal. This passageway houses the spinal cord. In addition, nerves radiate outward from the spinal cord to the rest of the body through openings in our vertebrae.
Sometimes known as spinal stenosis, spinal nerve compression occurs when the spinal canal narrows. This reduced space can cause a pinched nerve ( known as radiculopathy). In general, this process occurs in older adults as the bones and joints start to suffer from wear and tear—a condition referred to as osteoarthritis. Other factors can affect the narrowing of the spinal canal including:
- Injuries or trauma to the spine
- Spinal tumors
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Spinal infections
- Misalignment of the spine
- Bulging or herniated disc
- Degenerative disc disease
Symptoms of Spinal Nerve Compression
In the case of osteoarthritis, symptoms may take years to develop. Other forms of spinal compression, however, can have a relatively quick onset of symptoms. The most common symptoms of compression include:
- Pain in the neck or back
- Radiculopathy—radiating pain that spreads to other areas of the body
- Sciatica—burning pain that originates in the buttocks and spreads down the legs
- Cramping, weakness, or numbness in the extremities
- Difficulty with coordination, especially in the hands or legs
- Foot weakness that causes you to limp (aka foot drop)
Severe cases can cause loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness in the legs, and difficulty walking. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Your symptoms could indicate the onset of cauda equina syndrome—a very serious condition that can lead to permanent paralysis.
Is Spinal Decompression Surgery Right for Me?
Before choosing to undergo surgery, your doctor may recommend several conservative treatments. These may include physical therapy or managing your pain with medications. In fact, surgery is often considered a last resort to nerve pain unless you show signs of cauda equina syndrome or unresolved pain.
Good candidates for spinal decompression surgery often experience:
- Little to no relief after conservative treatments
- Significant and disabling pain
- Weakness or numbness in the leg or foot
- Symptoms that become rapidly worse
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Declining quality of life
- Diagnostic imaging that indicates a narrowing of the central canal
Types of Spinal Decompression Surgery
If your condition warrants surgery, then you will want to consult with a board-certified spine surgeon. Your surgeon will conduct pre-surgical and diagnostic tests to help determine the best procedure for you. The primary goal of these surgeries is to relieve pressure on the affected spinal nerve. The most common decompression surgeries include:
Laminectomy or Laminotomy
The lamina is a bony arch at the back of the vertebrae. It helps to shape the spinal canal. In some cases, abnormal bone growths—known as bone spurs—decrease the opening of the spinal canal. Bone spurs can develop for a variety of reasons, including arthritis of the facet joints, heredity factors, or injuries.
A laminectomy involves removing the entire lamina to make more space for the spinal canal. In addition, your surgeon may elect to only remove part of the lamina—for example, to remove bone spurs. This procedure is called a laminotomy. One significant benefit of a laminotomy over a laminectomy is the decreased chance of developing spinal instability.
Both procedures also remove portions of ligaments—known as the ligamentum flavum, which runsover the spinal nerves and cord.
If your compression involves the cervical (neck) area of the spine, then your surgeon may choose to perform a laminoplasty. This procedure allows for expansion of the spinal canal by cutting the cervical vertebrae such that they swing open like a door. Then, small bone wedges are placed in the open space. Once the bone “door” is closed by the surgeon, the wedges stop it from closing too much.
The natural aging process or trauma can damage the circular discs between the vertebrae. When these discs lose shape, the spine can become unstable. This, in turn, can lead to nerve compression.
During a discectomy, the surgeon removes portions or the entirety of a damaged disc. In some cases, removing only a small piece of a disc may be the best solution. Known as a microdiscectomy, this procedure involves the excision of the parts of a damaged disc that press on a nerve. Microdiscectomies may not require any further surgical intervention. When the entire disc is removed, however, the surgeon may perform additional procedures to stabilize the spine (discussed later).
Nerve roots pass through an opening in the vertebrae known as the foramen. A foraminotomy involves removing some bone on the edge of the foramen to make more space for the nerves. If an intervertebral disc presses against the nerve root, then a portion of it may be removed during this procedure.
Removing discs from one or more vertebrae, as well as other more complicated procedures, may require spinal fusion surgery. A fusion surgery stabilizes the spine with bone grafts and surgical hardware. In time, the vertebrae fuse together as one solid bone. This increases the stability of the spinal column and may prevent further instances of nerve irritation.
Recovery from Cervical or Lumbar Decompressive Surgery
Most of these procedures require general anesthesia. After surgery, you will be transferred to a recovery room where your vital signs will be monitored until the anesthesia wears off. Depending on the surgery, you may spend a day or two in the hospital to ensure that you are stable and the surgery was a success. Before being released from the hospital, you will receive a full set of discharge instructions.
Pain medications may help with any discomfort after surgery. In addition, you may need to ice the incision area a few times a day to reduce pain and swelling. The surgeon will let you know when you can resume normal activities. Physical therapy may also be part of the recovery process.
Following your discharge instructions and any therapy recommendations will increase the likelihood of a successful surgery. A majority of people undergoing spinal decompression surgery report pain relief and better nerve function in the long-term.
Ready to Take the Next Steps for a Better Future?
If you are looking for solutions to your neck or back pain, consulting with an orthopedic doctor can be the first step in helping you live a better life. An orthopedic doctor can accurately diagnose the cause of your pain and empower you to choose the best conservative and/or surgical options.
The team at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery uses the latest research-based treatments to ensure that you receive the care you need. If surgery is necessary, then we specialize in minimally invasive procedures. Using the latest equipment and techniques, we can reduce scarring, internal damage, and postoperative pain. As a result, you feel better quicker and need less time before you can resume your normal activities.
A life-changing consultation is only a phone call away. Call us at (855) 853-6542 and find out how our board-certified experts can help.
Do You Have Femoroacetabular Impingement?
Are you suffering from pain in the groin or hip area? Hip pain can result from a variety of injuries or conditions. Understanding what causes your discomfort is often the first step in treating symptoms and preventing future injuries.
Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI) occurs when extra bone develops on or near the hip joint. Sometimes referred to osteophytes or bone spurs, these growths can disrupt the movements of the hip bones. Over time, the friction generated by these bone spurs can damage the joint and limit your activity.
How do you know if you have FAI? Let’s take a closer look at the hip joint and how this condition affects your hips. Then, we’ll look at the best treatment options to reduce pain and restore function to the area.
Understanding the Hip Joint
The hip joint is one of the largest joints in the body. It also plays a key role in weight-bearing activities. Walking, running, and other vigorous activities can apply a lot of stress to the joints. Luckily, a healthy hip can support your weight, easily withstanding these stressors. Disease and injury, however, can alter the hip structure which, in turn, affects its function.
The ball-and-socket joint of the hip connects two bones—the thigh bone (femur) and the pelvis. The round femoral head fits snugly into a “socket” known as the acetabulum. Think of the acetabulum as a cup-shaped structure and the femoral head as slightly more than half a sphere. A smooth layer of articular cartilage covers the bones in the joint. The body produces synovial fluid to keep the cartilage slippery so the bones can move past each other without damage. Another ring of strong cartilage—known as the labrum—lines the outer edge of the acetabulum. The labrum deepens the joint, allowing for enhanced range of motion and joint alignment.
In addition, a series of ligaments and muscles hold the hip joint in place, delivering stability. Some of the strongest ligaments in the body are located at or near the hip joint. Muscles allow the bones associated with the hip to bend, straighten, rotate, and move the leg to and away from the midline.
What is Femoroacetabular Impingement?
FAI occurs when abnormal bone growths form around the femoral head or acetabulum. However, the exact cause of FAI is unknown. It’s believed that genetics and pediatric hip diseases, like coxa vara or Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, increase the likelihood of developing FAI. Additionally, participating in high-impact sports such as hockey or basketball during adolescence may play a role. Sports, however, do not seem to cause FAI. They simple hasten the onset and severity of the symptoms.
Furthermore, hip impingement can occur in three different ways:
- Pincer Impingement: Occurs when the bone growth extends over the rim of the acetabulum. As a result, the labrum may become damaged.
- Cam Impingement: Occurs when a bump forms on the femoral head. When the head loses its typical round shape, it cannot move smoothly around the inside of the acetabulum.
- Combined Impingement: As the name suggests, this is when growths are found on both the femoral head and acetabulum.
Symptoms of Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI)
In minor cases, some individuals may not even realize that they have FAI. In fact, people with FAI can live normal, active lives without experiencing much discomfort. However, others can gradually develop symptoms when damage to the surrounding soft tissues occurs. Symptoms of FAI include:
- Stiffness in the groin, hip, or thigh
- Groin or hip pain—especially after running, exercise, or sitting for extended periods of time
- Difficulty flexing the hip beyond a right angle
- Reduced range of motion including difficulty flexing, rotating, and adducting the hip
- Painful locking, clicking, or instability related to labral tearing
In addition, the damage caused by FAI may also lead to hip osteoarthritis. This occurs when the impingement causes the cartilage to wear off the bones in the hip socket. Likewise, the rubbing together of bones causes swelling, pain, and loss of motion in the joint.
Diagnosing Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI)
If you’re experiencing symptoms like those discussed above, you may want to get checked out by a doctor. Several other conditions cause similar symptoms, including hip pain. Pinpointing the exact cause of your hip pain makes treating it much more effective.
A doctor’s visit usually begins with a full review of your medical history and overall health. This includes discussing current and previous occupational or recreational activities that may have contributed to your hip condition.
If FAI is suspected, the doctor generally performs an impingement test. The doctor conducts this test while you lie on your back. Your knee is brought to your chest and gently rotated toward your opposite shoulder. If you feel pain or it recreates your symptoms, you may have FAI.
In addition to a general exam and impingement testing, the doctor may order diagnostic imaging to obtain a better view of the area. These tests can include:
- X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans: Images that allow the doctor to see any abnormalities in your hip joint. CT scans also help doctors to obtain a detailed view of the joint structure.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans: By using a magnetic field and radio waves, this test allows the doctor to observe any damage to the articular cartilage and labrum.
Getting Help for Your Femoroacetabular Impingement (FAI)
Once diagnosed with FAI, both conservative and surgical options are available to relieve symptoms and restore joint function.
Conservative Treatments for FAI
Physical therapy (PT) offers several benefits for individuals who suffer from FAI. Exercise-based physical therapy programs can reduce disability by focusing on muscle strength and flexibility. PT also assists with restoring your range of motion. In addition, a physical therapist can provide education about activity modification, movement pattern retraining, and pain management.
A non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, like ibuprofen, can also alleviate pain and inflammation. Depending on your discomfort, the doctor may prescribe pain medications. Always take these as directed as they can become addicting.
Surgical Options for FAI
The goal of FAI surgery is to correct the abnormalities caused by FAI and repair any damaged soft tissues. Surgical options can include:
- Hip Arthroscopy: This minimally invasive surgery uses a tiny camera and surgical tools. These tools allow the surgeon to remove the bone spurs caused by FAI. The surgeon will also repair damage to the articular cartilage and labrum. Hip arthroscopy is the most common surgery for those who suffer from FAI.
- Hip Replacement: If your FAI has caused severe hip osteoarthritis, a total hip replacement may be necessary. Those who are not good candidates for hip arthroscopy may benefit from a hip replacement. While this surgery is more complicated, the outcomes generally eliminate or decrease symptoms and restore function.
As surgical techniques and technologies improve, the reliance on minimally invasive surgery will only increase. Since minimally invasive surgery only requires small incisions, this means less scarring, damage to soft tissues, and blood loss. As a result, you can also recover faster from hip surgery with less preoperative pain.
Ready for an Experienced Team to Help You?
Dealing with hip pain can keep you from doing the things you love. Instead of being sidelined with FAI, maybe it’s time you consulted with a team of doctors who are ready to pinpoint the source of your pain and empower you with the best treatment options.
Our experts at Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery will take the time to get to know you, your symptoms, and goals for treatment. We work with you to create a treatment plan geared toward your individual needs and preferences.
Using the latest technology and medical advances, we treat your conditions to ensure accuracy and successful outcomes. Are you ready to take care of your hip pain and return to the things you love? Schedule a consultation with Orthopedic & Laser Spine Surgery today to see how we can help.