Treating back pain

Dr. Tim Johnson blogs about his piece on tonight's broadcast. It's part of a three part series on low back pain:

Low back pain is an affliction that strikes the majority of Americans at least once in their lives. We begin with a look at the most dramatic treatment for a degenerated disc - replacement with an artificial disc. During this procedure, the surgeon takes out the bad disc and puts in a three part device that allows the spine to actually move in a semi normal way. This procedure is widely used in Europe, less so in the U.S. It works on people with only a single bad disc and good bone density. But for some, it is truly a "miracle" cure.

Tomorrow night we look at two much more common operations - discectomy (removal of all or part of a slipped/herniated disc) and fusion (fusing two or more vertebrae, the individuals bones of the back) which uses bone grafts, screws and rods, sometimes other techniques to make the back bones immoveable. Fusions, especially, are controversial because they are done in large numbers (third most common operation in the U.S.) with mixed results. For this operation, second opinions are definitely in order.

Finally, on Wednesday, the most important topic of all: how to avoid surgery. In fact about 90% of people with low back pain will get better with conservative treatment - physical therapy, anti inflammatory meds, etc. So unless the back pain is accompanied by severe leg symptoms or bowel/bladder problems, "tincture of time" is usually the best treatment. Buyer beware.

UPDATED May 24th @ 3:30p ET: Many of you have written in with questions about back pain. It's great to hear from readers -- Dr. Tim and another back pain expert answered some of your questions on ABC News Now's Healthy Life program earlier today. [WATCH]

For more on our back pain series click here: [LINK]

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