Q: What are the best ways to prevent back pain?

A: An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure when it comes to back pain, and there are a lot of common sense things you can do in your everyday life, including:

  • Do exercises to strengthen your core muscles, which support your spine. These muscles include your abdominals, back, glutes (buttocks) and pelvic floor muscles.
  • Stretch before and after any strenuous activity
  • Pay attention to your posture when sitting or standing; don’t slouch
  • Sleep on a firm mattress
  • Take frequent breaks when sitting for long periods, especially when driving
  • Maintain a healthy weight; extra weight, especially around the middle, can put a strain on the lower back
  • Don’t lift objects that are too heavy for you. When lifting, use your legs more than your back, and don’t lift while bending forward.

Q: It seems counter-intuitive to treat back pain with exercise instead of rest — how does physical therapy help?

A: Lying in bed for more than a day or two causes your muscles to weaken. While activity may be uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean it will worsen your condition. On the contrary, strengthening the muscles surrounding your spine can help you return to your regular activities. Physical therapy will teach you how to perform these strengthening exercises safely.

Q: When should I consider surgery for back pain?

A: In most cases, surgery should be the last resort when it comes to treating painful back and neck conditions. But if nonsurgical treatments such as bed rest (one or two days, at most), ice and heat therapy, exercise, injections, medications, or alternative treatments such as acupuncture haven’t proven effective over a six- to 12-month period, your doctor may recommend surgery (depending on the specific cause of your back pain). The decision to undergo surgery should always be tailored to your individual symptoms and situation, and your level of function.

Q: What if a doctor says I need surgery right away?

A: Undergoing back surgery is a big decision. We always recommend that our patients get a second opinion if we’re recommending surgery. It’s important to give yourself as much time as necessary to make an informed choice that you’re comfortable with. And don’t feel defensive or guilty. It’s standard medical practice to get another opinion — doctors do it themselves when diagnosing a particularly complex problem!

Q: What is minimally invasive spine surgery?

A: Conventional “open” spine surgery is performed through incisions ranging from two to six inches and can involve cutting muscles to expose the section of the spine being operated on. With today’s advanced minimally invasive techniques and powerful surgical microscopes, however, it’s now possible to perform many spine and neck surgeries through one or more small incisions that are only ½- to 1- inch long. This minimally invasive approach o­ffers many advantages including less postoperative pain, lower risk of surgical complications and a faster recovery.