Back surgery: Is it time to consider it?

By: Justin Millard, M.D., orthopedic spine surgeon, Spine Center, MemorialCare Long Beach MedicalCenter

Almost everyone can expect to experience an episode of back pain at some point in their life. Most episodes tend to improve within two weeks to three months. Patients living with chronic neck or back pain, particularly with radiating symptoms to the extremities, should consider a consult with a spine surgeon to learn more about treatment options.

The Spine Center at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center offers a comprehensive program for patients needing spine surgery that strongly emphasizes patient education. Most surgeries on the spine are elective, meaning it’s the patient’s choice to have surgery or not. Spine surgery is a decision you should make with help from a trusted surgeon, who can explain the risks and benefits related to the procedure you’re interested in.

Working with your physician can help determine if these “conservative” treatment options are appropriate for your pain. Conservative treatment options are typically non-invasive and include physical therapy, activity modification, medications, or injections. Some examples of conservative treatments include:

  • Stay moving – Like the rest of the body, the spine is meant to move. Bed rest for more than a couple of days can worsen your pain and lead to other problems, like stiff joints or muscle weakness.
  • Use ice packs and heat pads – for the first 24 to 48 hours, try sticking with icing your back. Icing will help reduce inflammation. After about 48 hours, introduce heat to reduce stiffness.
  • Use over-the-counter pain medicines — Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., Advil®, Aleve®, aspirin and Motrin®) can help reduce pain and swelling.
  • Receive physician-prescribe injections — Physicians can prescribe various types of injections to treat pain. Pain relief may last for several days or even years.

Spine surgery is considered when conservative treatment options fail, and back pain or leg pain persists.Spine surgery decisions shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it also should be considered if your quality of life is impacted. New technology is helping surgeons improve outcomes and improve quality of life.

Long Beach Medical Center is the only hospital in LA County with ExcelsiusGPS® which is revolutionizing spine surgery as we know it. Robotic-assisted surgery with ExcelsiusGPS gives surgeons a powerful tool for improving accuracy in spinal screw placement, resulting in lower risk and better patient outcomes. Much like GPS in a car, surgeons see a unique road map of the spine for improved precision and accuracy. These improved accuracy rates ease the anxieties of patients interested in spine surgery.

These surgeons are trained to manage the most complex cases. For more information on spine surgery visit

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