Auto accidents, improper lifting, and weak back muscles can all contribute to back injuries and pain. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, over 26 million people aged 20-64 in the United States reported experiencing frequent back pain. Annually, back pain accounts for three million visits to hospital emergency departments. As workers spend more time in front of computers and at desks—and as most Americans are becoming increasingly sedentary and working longer hours—the risk of getting a herniated disk increases. Meanwhile, obesity increases the risk (and obesity prevalence has increased over the past decade).
Back injuries are the leading cause of missed days for health reasons from employment. A Georgetown University report (from its Center on an Aging Society) states that two-thirds of U.S. adults with back pain—due to illness or injury—missed a day of work in the past year, and adults with back pain spend approximately 200 million days bedridden in any given year.
TENS units, such as the Wi-Touch Wireless TENS, Laser Therapy devices, such as the Laser Touch One, and professional massagers, such as the Jeanie Rub Massager can provide pain relief for individuals suffering from sciatica as a result of a herniated disk. Sciatica is typically experienced as pain extending from the lower back into the leg. In some persons, only leg pain is experienced from a pinched sciatic nerve.
The lumbar region of the spine (lower back) contains five vertebrae. Between each vertebra, intervertebral disks prevent the bones (vertebrae) from rubbing against each other. Two separate components make up each disk—an outer ring and the center (termed the nucleus pulposus). Injury to the nucleus pulposus through a wearing down process can result in sciatic nerve pain. It can affect walking ability, and turn a workday into torment.
The Wi-Touch Wireless TENS is remote-controlled and runs on a battery, so there is no need to find an electrical outlet to use it. It can also be worn under most work attire. Pain relief due to nerve pain is its key feature. Meanwhile, the Jeanie Rub Massager runs at variable speeds to accommodate different preferences and uses.
Spinal fusion surgery is the option of last resort for treating a herniated disk. It permanently fuses two vertebral bones together. More than 465,000 spinal fusions were performed in the United States in 2011. The cost of a typical spinal fusion exceeds $80,000. However, spinal fusions are too often not successful in providing back pain relief, and a second surgery may become necessary.
In an article on the National Public Radio website, a research study comparing herniated disk treatments found that non-operative interventions were as effective as surgery. Preventing the need for spinal surgery is a goal of medical providers as well as patients. Physical therapy, acupuncture, osteopathic manipulation, and massage therapy are all alternative treatment options to prevent the need for surgical intervention.
The Laser Touch One works in a similar fashion to electrical stimulators used by physical therapists. Meanwhile, the Jeanie Rub Massager can provide relief to strained muscles. In tandem with other treatment modalities, these products can provide back pain relief and enable better functional ability throughout the workday.
U.S. Healthcare System Burden of Spinal Fusion Costs
Approximately 122,000 lumbar fusions were performed in 2001 according to the University of Washington School of Public Health website. This represented a 220 percent increase from 1990. From 2002-2007, the rate of complex spinal fusions billed to Medicare increased eight-fold (per an article on the NBC News website).
In the past 15 years, spinal fusion surgery has increased by more than 250 percent. Spinal fusion costs totaled $16.9 billion in 2004 alone, according to a Dartmouth University article entitled “Cost-effectiveness of spine fusion questioned in Dartmouth-led study”. Fifty-two percent of spinal fusion surgeries were covered by private insurance, 25 percent by Medicare, and 8 percent by Medicaid between 1997-2005 (per a report of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality).
Surgical Alternatives to Lumbar Fusion
Lumbar (open) Microscopic Discectomy is an alternative to lumbar fusion that generally requires a one-day hospital stay. The surgery involves a small incision in the skin over the spine, removal of some ligament and bone material to access the disc and the removal of some of the disc material. Similarly, laminectomy is less invasive than lumbar fusion; it involves removing a small section of the bony covering over the back of the spinal canal, thereby enlarging the spinal canal so that nerves have more room. Post-laminectomy, it is usually recommended that patients take time off from work for one to three weeks (or longer if the job is physically demanding).