Hey Doc, What's the Best Way to Avoid Back Surgery
Of course, the best way to avoid surgery is to avoid getting hurt. But life is not perfect and you know what they say about things happening. In this imperfect world, a low back injury can occur even when you are trying to careful by bending your knees while lifting or by not lifting more than you can handle. Unfortunately, the cards may be stacked against your back because you have a family history of low back problems or you were made a certain, special way by God. Back pain just happens sometimes for no apparent reason.
So, how do you avoid surgery? Sure you’ve heard it all before: lose weight, exercise, stop smoking, eat right, etc, etc, etc. But if I were to choose one BEST way to avoid back surgery, I’d sum it up in one word: decompress.
Think about how much load your spine endures from the effects of gravity, your physical weight, and those heavy purses, babies or books you are carrying around. The amount of pressure caused by the daily mechanical loads can be measured and, in fact, have been measured in the spine. As you can predict, the most amount of pressure is seen when one bends over to lift something and the least amount of pressure is seen when one is lying down. Based on this knowledge, spine pain can be predicted. The more pressure in the spine, the more pain you are going to experience.
If you are able to decompress the spine throughout the day, you will not only be able to manage your back pain throughout the day, you will also be more likely to avoid surgery without having to do anything else. Decompressing the spine is the single most important way to avoid back surgery.
This fact was actually proven in a recent study done in Europe. The researchers discovered that intermittent traction using an inversion device significantly reduced the need for people to have back surgery.1 Wow Imagine being able to avoid surgery by using a device in your own home. When people ask me what I think about inversion therapy, I simple show them the inversion chair that I use for my problematic spine. But please realize; there is a right way to use inversion devices and a wrong way to use inversion devices. And anyone with high blood pressure, glaucoma or heart disease should not use inversion therapy.
Luckily, there are other ways to decompress the spine that are less risky and less expensive too. A physical therapist can show you how to traction your own spine. My physical therapist showed me different auto-tractioning techniques using my bed, a doorway, a chair, a walker and a high counter-top. Now, I pass that knowledge on to anyone who needs to decompress there spine throughout the day in order to avoid surgery. Ask your physical therapist about these helpful tricks that you can do anywhere.
Although I utilize auto-tractioning techniques regularly and encourage my clients to do the same, one of my favorite ways to decompress is by using one of my zero-gravity chairs. I use the Perfect Chair or the La Fuma chair at home and in my office. By eliminating the effects of gravity, I can quickly reduce the amount of pain that I experience.
Some people like to get fancy about the whole decompression thing. A few different expensive pieces of equipment are being marketed to those wishing to avoid spine surgery. One is the DRX9000 which is a supine traction device that some clinicians have in their office for clients to use.2 Another is the VAX-D system that decompresses people in the prone position.3 The results from these devices are promising, but I fear that unless someone has regular sessions the results may not be last long.
This brings me to my next point about how to avoid back surgery. Even though decompression does help, it does not fix anything. The discs are still old, the joints are still arthritic and the spine still gets a little cranky. Decompressing the spine is just a management technique that allows you to be in control of how much pressure your spine experiences and how much pain you experience. If you are able to control pain intensity, frequency and duration, you’ll be less likely to need back surgery. So no matter what you do, before agreeing to surgery, try to decompress your spine first. Done daily; traction, inversion and other decompression techniques are the most powerful ways to avoid back surgery.
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Pain Pract. 2008 Jan-Feb;8(1):11-7
Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2008 Feb;89(2):269-74
Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.