Are there any innovative new treatments that have been effective?
A positive trend I’ve seen is the movement away from medication and major surgery to more minimally invasive treatments. There is a procedure I use, radiofrequency ablation, where I essentially zap an offending nerve and stop pain signals for up to two years. If something is inflamed, steroids can be inserted directly using a special machine that allows image guidance.
My colleagues in surgery are also developing better imaging techniques, and minimally invasive options are available in many cases when surgery is needed.
Could you offer some tips for a healthier work setup?
For someone who sits at a desk all day, I say you’re not a baseball player. You don’t have to train to play baseball, but you do have to condition your body to do the type of work that you’re asking it to do, which is sit in a chair for long periods. That means core strengthening, maintaining flexibility, and doing other exercises to keep your weight down.
Optimize your workstation. If you’re lucky enough to have an ergonomic specialist in your office to set up your workstation, take advantage of that resource. Generally, your monitor should be at eye level, your chair should be adjustable, and the keyboard should be low enough that your elbows are at 90 degrees. A physical therapist or rehabilitation medicine physician can give you additional tips.
For someone who does heavy lifting at work, investigate your workplace standards on how to lift properly, and be sure to follow those guidelines.
Does how you sleep affect neck and back pain? What about your diet?
Getting good, restorative sleep is most important. The actual mechanics of your bed matter less than some companies would make you believe. I haven’t seen a good study that examines different sleep positions over time and their impact on spine pain.
There aren’t many tricks with diet, but you do want to avoid foods that cause inflammation and will make you gain weight, such as processed food and foods with excessive calories and simple sugar.
Any promising new research or treatments?
There is real untapped potential in the role of regenerative treatments. Are there going to be ways to regenerate disks? Platelet rich plasma (a procedure in which growth factors in your blood are obtained and injected back into the injured site) has been used in musculoskeletal medicine for muscle and joint disorders, but is still an unproven treatment for the back. There is more research to be done, but there is hope for that in the future. Spine surgeons are also coming up with shorter, more specific and minimally invasive surgeries, which is certainly more appealing to patients.
To learn more about spine care at NewYork-Presbyterian Och Spine Hospital, visit nyp.org/spinehospital.