Experienced Orthopedic Surgeon Serving San Joaquin County, & San Francisco Bay Area

Managing Chronic Back Pain: When to See an Orthopedic Surgeon

Chronic back pain is a common and often debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can interfere with daily activities, reduce quality of life, and lead to significant emotional distress. While many cases of back pain resolve on their own with conservative treatment, some require specialized care. Understanding when to seek help from an orthopedic surgeon is crucial for effective management and long-term relief.

Understanding Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain is defined as pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause has been treated. It can stem from various sources, including:


      • Muscle or ligament strain:

    Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain back muscles and spinal ligaments.


        • Bulging or ruptured disks:

      Disks act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. When they become damaged, they can press on nerves, causing pain.


          • Arthritis:

        Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back, leading to pain and stiffness.


            • Osteoporosis:

          This condition causes bones to become brittle and porous, making the spine’s vertebrae more susceptible to fractures.


              • Skeletal irregularities:

            Conditions like scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine, can lead to chronic pain.


            Conservative Treatments for Chronic Back Pain


            Before considering surgery, doctors typically recommend several non-invasive treatments to manage chronic back pain:

            A structured exercise program tailored to strengthen the muscles supporting the spine and improve flexibility.

            Over-the-counter pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and sometimes prescription medications.

            Maintaining a healthy weight, practicing good posture, and using proper techniques when lifting heavy objects.

            Alternating between heat and ice packs to reduce inflammation and relieve pain.

            Chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy can provide relief for some individuals.

            Cortisone injections can reduce inflammation around nerve roots, providing temporary pain relief.

            When to See an Orthopedic Surgeon

            While conservative treatments can be effective, there are instances when it’s necessary to seek the expertise of an orthopedic surgeon:

                • Persistent Pain

              If your pain persists for more than 12 weeks despite conservative treatments, it may be time to consult a specialist.

                  • Radiating Pain

                Pain that radiates down the leg or arm, often accompanied by numbness or tingling, can indicate nerve compression or damage.

                    • Weakness

                  Significant weakness in the legs or arms, difficulty walking, or loss of bladder or bowel control are serious symptoms that require immediate medical attention.

                      • Structural Issues

                    Conditions like scoliosis or spinal stenosis, which involve structural problems with the spine, may require surgical intervention.

                        • Failed Conservative Treatments

                      If you’ve tried various non-surgical treatments without success, an orthopedic surgeon can evaluate whether surgery is a viable option.

                      Surgical Options for Chronic Back Pain

                      Orthopedic surgeons offer a range of surgical procedures to address the underlying causes of chronic back pain. Some common options include:

                          • Discectomy: Removal of a herniated disk that is pressing on a nerve.

                          • Laminectomy: Removal of part of the vertebrae to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves, often used to treat spinal stenosis.

                          • Spinal Fusion: Fusing two or more vertebrae together to stabilize the spine and reduce pain caused by movement.

                          • Artificial Disk Replacement: Replacing a damaged disk with an artificial one to maintain motion in the spine.

                          • Vertebroplasty/Kyphoplasty: Minimally invasive procedures to stabilize compression fractures in the spine caused by osteoporosis.

                        Preparing for a Consultation

                        If you’re considering seeing an orthopedic surgeon for chronic back pain, it’s helpful to prepare for your consultation:

                            • Medical History: Be ready to provide a detailed medical history, including previous treatments and their outcomes.

                            • Symptom Diary: Keep a diary of your pain, noting when it occurs, its intensity, and any activities that exacerbate or relieve it.

                            • Questions: Prepare a list of questions to ask your surgeon about your diagnosis, treatment options, and expected outcomes.


                          Chronic back pain can be a complex and challenging condition to manage. While many people find relief with conservative treatments, others may require the expertise of an orthopedic surgeon. Understanding when to seek specialized care is crucial for effective management and long-term relief. If you are experiencing persistent, radiating pain, weakness, or have not found relief with non-surgical treatments, consulting with a highly experienced orthopedic surgeon like Dr. Morteza Farr can help you explore your options and find the best path to recovery.

                          For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact Dr. Morteza Farr’s office today. Our team is dedicated to providing compassionate, expert care to help you regain your quality of life.



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