Five percent of the United States population experiences back pain each year (1). Over your lifetime, you have a 60-80% chance of experiencing at least one episode of back pain. Most episodes are not severe and resolve without medical care. Some, however, are severe and disabling. But even the more severe cases which cause patients to seek medical or chiropractic care are usually transient. It has been estimated that 90% of patients who seek professional treatment for back pain will be pain free within 1-3 months. In this group of patients, after ruling out an underlying systemic cause such as a malignancy or infection, appropriate care consists of providing conservative treatment.
The gold standard of conservative treatment consists of management with NSAIDS (Non Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs) and exercise therapy (chiropractic or physical therapy). If these modalities fail after a 3-6 week trial, referral to a specialist (neurosurgeon or orthopedic surgeon) is appropriate. Often, we as specialists will continue conservative measures. When this fails, surgery can be extremely effective. Surgery is only performed when conservative measures fail and diagnostic tests demonstrate abnormalities.
In our practice, the most frequently encountered causes of nerve impingement in the lumbar spine are herniated disk, spinal stenosis and painful mechanical instability with degenerated disk.