Back pain, particularly lower back pain, is a pervasive problem in the United States. According to the American Chiropractic Association, about 31 million Americans, or almost 10 percent of the population, suffer from lower back pain at any one time. It is second only to upper respiratory infections on the list of the reasons people visit doctors.
Not surprisingly, it is a common affliction among workers, with more than half reporting symptoms of back pain every year. Since back injuries are often so debilitating, any treatments which allow for a quicker return to work are often welcomed by employee and employer alike.
Herniated or bulging discs are responsible for many of these back problems. When they are healthy, discs act as cushions between spinal vertebrae. They also help to maintain open pathways for nerves extending from the spinal cord to various parts of the body, including arms and legs. Each disc consists of a tough outer layer and a softer inner layer.
When the outer layer is compromised due to acute injury or long-term deterioration, the softer center may extend out where it may pinch a nerve root leading away from the spine. When nerve roots get irritated, compressed or impeded , severe back and/or leg pain may result. When the pain travels down a leg, it is referred to as sciatica.
Sometimes, during initial weeks of conservative medical treatment, injured discs heal enough to significantly reduce the nerve impingement, and the pain subsides to tolerable levels or it disappears altogether. When pain does not sufficiently diminish, traditional surgical techniques have often been the treatment of last resort, largely because of the risks involved and the potentially lengthy rehabilitation time which may be measured in weeks or months.
Epidural injections and percutaneous discectomies are treatments which are less invasive than traditional surgical techniques. Epidural steroid injections have been used to alleviate back pain for more than six decades. They often reduce pain enough to expand rehabilitation options and, sometimes, to allow a return to work.
A percutaneous discectomy is another non-invasive technique which involves inserting endoscopes through small skin incisions. The surgeon seeks to precisely remove primarily the portion of the disc that is irritating the nerve and causing all the pain. Success rates of 75-80 percent are noted in research noted by the National Institutes of Health.
A percutaneous discectomy can be performed on an outpatient basis. After a procedure which typically last less than an hour, patients often go home with a few hours of the conclusion of the procedure. Although recovery times vary, most patients resume normal daily activities in approximately one week.
Percutaneous Discectomy Benefits
Although pain reduction or elimination is a primary goal, there are other potential advantages:
- Less invasive than surgery
- Reduced scarring compared to traditional surgical techniques
- Helps preserve disc strength
- Retains potential for future treatment options when necessary
Candidates for Such Procedures
Those that do not find acceptable relief from simpler treatments like ice, heat, pain medication and /or physical therapy. Those with bulging but non-ruptured discs are often good candidates for this procedure, because more invasive surgical techniques are usually not warranted or appropriate.
When a worker sustains a disc injury on the job, epidural injections or a percutaneous discectomy may be preferred over more invasive techniques when an attending physician recommends such a course of action. Recovery time is often reduced, which benefits all parties.
If you or a family member suffers a back injury on the job, it is important to file a workers comp claim in a timely manner. At Meshbesher Law Firm, we welcome your questions about a workplace back injury. An initial consultation is provided free of charge and without obligation. For additional information, please contact us.