Over 1.5 billion people simply live with chronic pain. Chronic back pain is fairly common, though neck pain, headaches, and joint pain are other common types of chronic pain. This kind of pain can severely reduce one’s quality of life and keep them from doing activities that they enjoy and in some cases, even carrying out basic necessities. They may need to be on regular pain medication — in some cases, opioids — and be resigned to that cost for the rest of their lives. However, in some cases, neurosurgery might be able to help. Neurosurgical operations can work on everything from bulging discs to brain surgery, spinal fractures or injuries to trigeminal neuralgia. If you’re living with chronic pain related to your back, neck, or head, you might want to consult your doctor about being referred to neurosurgery to see what your options might be.
What Exactly Is Neurosurgery?
The image that jumps to most people’s minds when they think of neurosurgery is brain surgery. However, neurosurgery also covers much more than that. It’s a specialty that concerns itself with the nervous system and the things that support it.
More specifically, it looks at diagnosing and treating injuries or diseases or disorders as related to the brain, spinal cord and column, and other peripheral nerves in the rest of the body. This covers both adult and children patients and surgery isn’t always necessary.
Because it’s such a complex field, neurosurgeons often work in tandem with other specialists when it comes to tumors, illnesses, or other disorders, because of the way their work affects other parts of the body. They treat both things that are relatively common, such as back or neck pain, and more complicated issues like trigeminal neuralgia or spinal arthritis.
What are the Benefits of Neurosurgery?
One huge outcome from neurosurgery is reduced pain in patients. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reported that around 80% of adults would have low back pain at some point over the course of their lifetime. For some, this pain may become chronic and more persistent, causing them severe discomfort. Medicine may only provide minor, temporary relief, and opioids might be prescribed for better pain management, though that can also have unintended consequences.
Neurosurgery can offer some relief with spinal cord stimulation and other methods of treatment. Spinal cord stimulation grants such pain relief that patients don’t need to take as much pain medication. Indeed, one study showed that participants who had high-frequency therapy cut down or entirely stopped taking opioid medications; these people had been in chronic pain for about 13 years on average.
And because pain is reduced, it also improves people’s quality of life and lets them return to former hobbies or activities that they loved. In more severe cases, they might gain more independence, because they can move without pain and don’t need medication or caretakers to fulfill basic functions.
They may also be able to pinpoint if something is going wrong in the brain and get to a deeper level of treatment and understanding. For example, if someone is having consistent headaches or having memory problems, a neurologist will likely be consulted.
What Should I Look For in a Neurosurgeon?
Your primary care doctor should be able to provide you with a list of referrals — start there. Your doctor will know the best in their field and may have even worked with this neurosurgeon before with other patients. Once you’ve decided on a few, check out their credentials — their certifications, education, and any malpractice and disciplinary history — and their experience.
You should also be comfortable with them and ensure that their communication style works for you, as well as their hospital’s communication. And of course, it’s extremely helpful — and sometimes necessary — that they’re covered under your insurance.
You don’t have to live in chronic pain. Consider seeing a neurosurgeon to see what can be done so you can get back to living your life.