Effective Pain Management for Spinal Degeneration

Thousands of people deal with chronic pain stemming from degenerative disease of the spine and the effects of arthritis. Those who are suffering from persistent back pain caused by spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease are potential candidates for spinal fusion surgery, which is generally only considered after other non-surgical therapies have failed.

Spinal degeneration, though a normal part of the aging process, can culminate in neck and back pain that originates from the bones, ligaments, muscles, nerves and intervertebral disks, as well as other areas of the spine. The key to managing stiffness and aches from osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease is getting an accurate diagnosis that confirms the underlying causes of the discomfort, so patients can begin proactive treatment.

Symptoms may include lower back pain that is exacerbated with sitting; pain that is worsened by twisting, lifting or bending; numbness or a pins-and-needles sensation in the legs; and a desire to change positions repeatedly so as to relieve chronic throbbing in the lower back. Though debilitating in nature, not all lower back pain requires surgical intervention, as more than 95 percent of patients find relief with conservative approaches such as medication, physical therapy, exercise and chiropractic manipulations.

Treatment options may include spinal fusion surgery
As more cases of severe degenerative disease of the spine call for spinal fusion surgery, INFUSE Bone Grafts has become a widely used product. Produced by Medtronic, the world’s largest manufacturer of spinal treatments, the INFUSE graft is a synthetic material made from bone morphogenetic proteins, and was promoted as safer and less invasive option compared to traditional bone grafts.

However, INFUSE bone graft complications including infections, male sterility, bone loss and increased cancer risks have sparked controversy and litigation in recent months. A 2012 U.S. Senate investigation showed that studies which portrayed Medtronic’s spine fusion product as a major advance in back surgery were in fact heavily edited by company employees, while the authors were paid millions in kickbacks.

British researchers have also determined that INFUSE may expedite bone fusion rates, but the graft is not effective at reducing patients’ pain compared to alternative methods. Left with life-altering complications, some bone graft recipients have filed an INFUSE lawsuit accusing Medtronic of doctoring its clinical research to overstate its product’s efficacy while downplaying potential risks. Read more about INFUSE lawsuits here.

Alternative therapies for back pain caused by spinal degeneration

Most people age 40 and older have some degeneration in the spine; however, not everyone suffers pain. An accurate diagnosis is critical for effective treatment, whether the cause is degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis or bone spurs, or other trauma. Finding a physician who is experienced in disease of the joints is the first step to managing painful symptoms. In the majority of cases, patients benefit from conservative therapies that help maintain normal spinal motion, keeping joints healthy and flexible. A doctor may ask that patients keep a journal that chronicles the intensity and frequency of back pain, to help identify the best course of action.

Alternatives to spinal surgery include exercise programs that focus on stretching the hip and back muscles. Yoga and pilates classes often work wonders since they emphasize gentle stretching and help strengthen muscles that support the spine.  Common over-the-counter medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) are useful for easing pain, though doctors may prescribe corticosteroids when necessary.  A visit to the chiropractor is another option, and though manipulations won’t cure degenerative conditions, they can ease the discomfort associated with muscle contractions and spasms.
Physical therapy sessions can be invaluable for certain types of back pain associated with arthritis, sports injuries and degenerative disease of the spine, while evidence show that supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate may help slow the progression of osteoarthritis. Lastly, maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best remedies for relieving painful symptoms associated with joint degeneration and spinal disease.

This guest post is by Lance Andrews. Lance writes for Injury Lawyer News, reporting on dangerous drugs and defective medical devices that expose millions of unsuspecting patients to serious risks.

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