Spine Care and Back Pain Treatment

At RWJBarnabas Health, we understand how difficult it is to live with back pain. If you need a spine specialist, come visit us.

Our compassionate, experienced doctors use the latest medical technology to provide world-class spine care, from nonsurgical therapies and minimally invasive spine surgery to traditional spine surgery. We are at the forefront of orthopedic, microsurgical and neurosurgical care. Our spine surgeons opt for minimally invasive methods whenever possible to successfully treat your back pain.

As the largest health care network in New Jersey, our well-rounded orthopedics and neurology and neurosurgery services include orthopedic surgeons, neurologists and neurosurgeons along with physician assistants, registered nurses, physical therapists and other medical professionals who are equipped with the knowledge and expertise to guide you through your back pain treatment.

Multidisciplinary Care

RWJBarnabas Health orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons often work together to manage disorders of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine. These highly skilled physicians diagnose and treat problems involving bones, ligaments, discs, deformities, nerves and the spinal cord. Your primary care doctor can tell you which type of spine specialist you should visit first.


My Back Hurts! What Can I Do?

Back pain symptoms can vary based on the cause and the location of the pain. Symptoms may come and go, remain constant or get worse during certain activities. Types of back pain may include:

  • Dull muscle aches
  • Muscle weakness
  • Soreness
  • Sharp pains
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pain that radiates into the arms and legs

In some cases, back and neck pains go away on their own. In other cases, home remedies may provide sufficient pain-relieving back pain treatment such as:

  • Rest
  • Heat packs
  • Ice packs
  • Light stretching
  • over-the-counter anti-inflammatories

But when pain persists, you should see a spine specialist.

When to Seek Back Pain Treatment

Severe or long-lasting pain may be a sign of a larger issue that requires testing and a back pain treatment plan led by a spine specialist or spine surgeon. You should seek medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following issues:

  • Severe pain that is not improving with rest
  • Pain lasting longer than a few weeks
  • Pain that radiates down to the legs
  • Numbness, weakness or tingling in the arms or legs
  • Low back pain associated with sudden new inability to urinate and saddle numbness and tingling.

Depending on the condition, a spine specialist may prescribe nonsurgical therapies such as massage, physical therapy, spinal traction, trigger point injections to help reduce the pain. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids and muscle relaxants as well as certain nerve medications may be used. These noninvasive forms of back pain treatment are often effective in helping patients heal and achieve relief from chronic back pain.

About Your Spine

Your spine is the strong skeletal structure that runs from the base of your skull all the way down to your tailbone. From giving your body support to allowing you to stretch, bend, flex, bear weight and more, your spine fills many roles in one. It is composed of bones, muscles, tendons and tissues, and helps protect and maintain neurological function. The major components of your spine are:

  • Vertebrae. The spine is made of a series of individual bones individually called vertebra. Each vertebra surrounds and provides protection to the spinal cord.
  • Spinal cord. The spinal cord carries vital nerve signals between your brain and the rest of your body. It helps the brain process the sensation of touch and controls movement.
  • Spinal discs. In between each vertebra is a disc, which is a round, cushiony tissue that provides shock absorption to the spinal bones. Each disc is composed of two layers, a gel-like inner layer to provide flexibility, surrounded by a tough outer layer that can withstand the pressure of twisting, turning, lifting and other day-to-day movements.

Common Neck and Back Pain Causes

Your spine specialist may explain that a back injury can be caused by a variety of factors which include lifestyle, trauma, age and congenital conditions and disorders. RWJBarnabas Health diagnoses and treats an array of back pain causes that may require rehabilitative spine care, nonsurgical treatments or in some cases, spine surgery.

Common back pain causes related to lifestyle include:

  • Lack of musculature or poor physical health
  • Obesity
  • Poor posture or improper lifting
  • Pregnancy
  • Cigarette smoking

Other leading back pain causes stem from muscle strains and sprains and bone fractures from traumatic injuries that may include:

  • Sports injuries
  • Accidents involving heavy machinery
  • Auto collisions

Spine specialists also treat a number of common back pain causes related to congenital or age-related conditions. Each of the following may have both nonsurgical and surgical treatment options:

  • Degenerative disc disease. This painful disease involves the thinning of the spinal discs over time, which often requires back pain treatment or spine surgery to replace the damaged disc.
  • Head and neck cancer. Although it is not a common sign of cancer, persistent neck pains combined with headache, sore throat, cough or voice changes can occasionally be associated with some forms of cancer.
  • Herniated discs. This occurs when a portion of the spinal disc is squeezed out of alignment and into the spinal canal, resulting in a painful bulge, or hernia. Like degenerative disc disease, this condition can be treated with therapy or minimally invasive spine surgery.
  • Osteoarthritis. This degenerative disease occurs when the bones and cartilage deteriorate over time. Patients who suffer from this disease may benefit from orthopedic spine care from a spine specialist.
  • Osteoporosis. This orthopedic disease involves ongoing bone loss and increasingly brittle bones, including the bones in the spine. Patients who have osteoporosis are more likely to develop spine fractures from minimal trauma.
  • Peripheral neuropathy. Affecting mobility, this condition comes from nerve damage to the peripheral nervous system which is located outside the brain and spinal cord. People with peripheral neuropathy are often referred to a neurologist to help coordinate ongoing care options.
  • Sciatica. This disorder involves nerve injury that results in pain radiating down the leg. Spine care, including stretching and other therapies, can be beneficial in alleviating pain.
  • Scoliosis. This spinal condition is characterized by the C or S-shaped curvature of the spine. Patients with a significant curve may be treated by an orthopedic spine specialist using braces to straighten the spine. Occasionally, spine surgery may be necessary.
  • Spinal stenosis. This disease occurs when the space within the backbone is too small, putting too much pressure on the spinal cord. Spine surgery can improve this condition.
  • Spinal tumors. Tumors or growths that appear within your spinal bones or spinal canal can cause back pain. Spine care for this condition can involve removing the tumors through spine surgery.
  • Spondylolisthesis. This condition occurs when a low back vertebra slips out of alignment. Back pain treatment can involve bracing, spine surgery or other therapies.

Diagnosing a Spinal Condition

If you have had an injury or are suffering from back pain that is not improving from rest and home spine care treatments, it is important to seek medical attention. Your primary care doctor will advise you as to whether you need to see an orthopedic surgeon, neurologist, or neurosurgeon.

Scheduling an appointment with a spine specialist may help to rule out any serious conditions as well as help prevent further damage from occurring.

During your appointment, your spine specialist may address your back pain by asking you when you first noticed the pain and when it is the most noticeable. They may ask you to stand, sit, walk, lift and bend your legs. While you are conducting the motions, they may ask you to rate your pain on a scale from 0 to 10.

The findings from these tests will help your spine specialist determine the location of the pain and injury, as well as rule out more serious back pain causes.

Diagnostic Tests to Determine the Source of Back Pain

Your spine specialist may order blood or imaging tests to identify the exact cause of your pain to guide you in your course of back pain treatment. They may include:

  • Blood tests. These tests can reveal whether there is an infection that may be contributing to your back pain causes.
  • X-ray imaging. Although an X-ray image cannot show soft tissue tears, it may help rule out other conditions causing your back pain, such as a broken bone or osteoarthritis. It also helps doctors view the alignment of the spine.
  • Computerized axial tomography (CT scans). This technology can capture highly-detailed images of the spinal canal and its surrounding structures, which is highly beneficial in forming a successful back pain treatment.
  • Electromyography (EMG). Spine specialists rely on this imaging test to measure electrical impulses in the spinal nerves, which helps verify their health as well as isolate any signs of nerve damage.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In addition to showing bone breaks, magnetic wave technology can produce detailed images of soft tissue inflammations and swelling, as well as herniated discs or issues with nerves or blood vessels.

Depending on the type and severity of your back injury or condition, your prescribed spine care and back pain treatment at RWJBarnabas Health may include a blend of nonsurgical spinal treatments or in some cases, spine surgery to get you back to feeling your best.

Are you in need of back pain treatment? RWJBarnabas Health can help.