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Don’t Rush to Surgery–not what you would expect to hear from most spine surgeons, however, here are many non-surgical options for back pain relief.  Unless there is a very rare medical emergency, it is usually advisable to try conservative (non-surgical) back pain treatment before considering invasive procedures such as certain types of spinal fusion surgery, or even minimally invasive procedures such as a discectomy.

Speak to your surgeon first, however, heat or cold therapy can be a great way to begin conservative therapy for mild back pain.  Using heating pads or ice packs may help relieve some types of mild back pain.  Many people find that alternating the two is most effective.  Even super steamy showers have shown to relax muscles that can lead to seemingly debilitating back pain. 

Over the counter pain medication, often in combination with heat or ice, (depending on your medical history and the nature of your back pain), can help as well.  Yyour doctor may prescribe an oral medication for relief of mild to moderate back pain.  Oral pain relievers for back pain include NSAIDs (like ibuprofen), acetaminophen, steroids, narcotics, muscle relaxants, and even certain forms of anti-depressant medication can help alleviate some types of pain, depend ending on when the pain is originating from.

Manual Manipulation, or Osteopathic manipulation is the “hands-on” approach performed by an osteopath or in some instances a chiropractor or licensed massage therapist.  This can can increase flexibility, adjust the joints of the spine, and increase blood flow.

Massage:Therapeutic massage reduces stiffness, improves blood flow, and stretches and relaxes the muscles.

Exercise: Certain exercises strengthen the muscles of the back, giving support to the spine and helping with posture.

Acupuncture.  Thin needles are placed in various locations on the body to help alleviate pain in this ancient Chinese practice.

Lifestyle changes.  Losing weight, increasing your activity level and improving your posture are all basic changes that often help to combat chronic back pain.

More Aggressive Approach to Back Pain (we will discus this in greater detail in a future installment) 


Epidural injections can reduce inflammation that contributes to pain.  Nerve block injections involve injecting a local anesthetic to help with acute pain.

Electrical stimulation.  Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units are portable devices that deliver a mild electrical charge to confuse the nerve signals that generate pain.

If conservative measures to treat back pain are not working, and if your  pain (or associated  conditions such as sciatica) is becoming worse and having a negative impact on your lifestyle or overall quality of life, you may want to consider speaking to a spine surgeon to learn about both options for both “open” and minimally invasive forms of spine surgery.