Main Line Spine Health Letter Logo

9 Ways to Treat Chronic Back Pain Without Major Spine Surgery

Many Conservative Alternatives Have Proven to Be Effective

May 2024

If back pain is present for over three months, it is considered chronic. It can come and go and vary in intensity.

If you suffer from it, you are not alone. Surveys estimate that more than 8 percent of U.S. adults are currently experiencing chronic back pain. It limits everyday activities as a result.

While spinal back surgery can benefit some causes of back pain, it’s important to note that it’s rarely necessary. Back pain often resolves itself over a few months, especially with the help of effective non-surgical treatments. 

We’ll take a look at nine options to try to relieve back pain without surgery.

1. Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Inflammation is a natural response of the body in response to illness or injury. It follows that when you are experiencing back pain, you may have some accompanying inflammation. Recent University of Pittsburgh Medical School research suggests that anti-inflammatory diets are better for back pain.

Anti-inflammatory diets include a variety of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, a mix like the Mediterranean diet. Conversely, processed foods and foods high in sugar tend to increase inflammation. 

Omega-3 fatty acids, found naturally in fish, seafood, nuts, and seeds, are also beneficial for anti-inflammation.

Woman with back pain sits at her work desk and clutches back

2. Achieve a Healthy Weight

According to multiple studies, excess weight contributes to lower back pain and degenerative disk disease. Every extra pound of weight significantly increases the strain on the muscles and ligaments of the back. 

Excessive weight can pull the natural curves of the spine out of alignment. It can overload the shock-absorbing disks of the spine. And fat can secrete chemicals that contribute to chronic whole-body inflammation and pain disorders.

Achieving a healthy weight can reduce some of the continuing damage to your back, but it can’t reverse existing damage.

3. Regular Exercise

A sedentary lifestyle can result in weak core muscles, poor posture, and increased low back pain. Lifestyle changes are required to reverse that trend.

There are no guarantees that an exercise program will completely alleviate back pain. However, research shows it often relieves pain and improves overall fitness and mobility. Studies have also found that doing regular exercise can reduce the occurrences of back pain by almost half.

Even ramping up daily activity by a small amount can significantly improve back pain levels.

However, if you last exercised regularly a while ago, you should consult your doctor before starting a fitness program.

4. Physical Therapy

Doctors often refer patients to a physical therapist as one of the first treatment options for low back pain. Their recommendations usually include that a physical therapist provide guided therapeutic exercises to strengthen lower back muscles and condition spinal tissues and joints.

These physical therapy programs aim to decrease painful symptoms, improve low back function, increase spine flexibility, and set up a long-term program to prevent back pain recurrence.

5. Alternative Treatments

Some patients may benefit from alternative treatments for chronic low back pain. Acupuncture, massage, and biofeedback therapy are options worth exploring. The potential benefits of these therapies outweigh their risks.

6. Injection-Based Treatments

Doctors may use injection-based treatments, including lumbar epidural steroid injections, for specific causes of chronic lower back pain. Lumbar epidural steroid injections are often effective for relieving pain from herniated disks and spinal stenosis. They are usually precisely targeted using fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance.

These injected steroids can reduce swelling and pressure on the nerves that are causing back pain. This procedure often leads to temporary pain relief lasting three months or longer.

7. Ablation Procedures

When other back pain relief methods have been unsuccessful, ablation procedures may be an appropriate alternative. 

One such procedure is radiofrequency ablation (RFA), also known as a radiofrequency neurotomy. Radiofrequency ablation uses radio waves to heat a small area of nerve tissue in the spine identified as a source of back pain. The heat destroys that nerve area, stopping it from sending pain signals to the brain. 

Another ablation procedure, called Intracept, targets the basivertebral nerve that causes chronic vertebrogenic low back pain. Vertebrogenic pain is a distinct type of chronic low back pain caused by damage to vertebral endplates from disc degeneration or simply wear and tear from everyday life.

8. Orthobiologic Therapies

Orthobiologic therapies use blood, tissue, or cells to boost the body’s natural healing processes. 

The VIA Disc procedure falls into this category. This minimally invasive therapy rehydrates and supports the cushioning function of degenerated discs, which can relieve back pain. VIA Disc is one of the first orthobiologic therapies covered under Medicare.

Platelet-rich plasma Injections (PRP) are another therapy in this category. It uses a patient’s blood to isolate and concentrate platelets injected into an injured back area. Although clinical results for this procedure seem promising, it is still considered an experimental treatment. The use of PRP for chronic back pain is generally not covered by medical insurance.

9. Neuromodulation Therapies

Spinal Cord Stimulation (SCS), Dorsal Root Ganglion Stimulation (DRG), and Peripheral Nerve Stimulation (PNS) are three neuromodulation therapies used to relieve back pain. These therapies use mild electrical stimulation targeted to specific neurological sites in the body to interrupt pain signals before they reach the brain.

These minimally invasive procedures may be appropriate when multiple other treatments have failed to provide adequate relief. They each have the significant potential to restore patients’ quality of life.

Summing It Up

Spine surgery may be ultimately appropriate for some patients for pain relief. However, it should only be considered after all other alternatives have been exhausted. 

Make an Appointment

Share This Page: