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Back Pain is the Topic of Lawrence’s ‘Dinner with Doctor Otten’

OttenDinner1Back pain is a common problem, and most will never need surgery,” says neurosurgeon Dr. Marc Otten.

This may sound strange for a surgeon to say, but this was how Dr. Otten opened his talk on back pain last week at New York-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital’s monthly “Dinner with the Doctor.”

Dr. Otten believes, as do all our Columbia Neurosurgeons, that surgery isn’t to be taken lightly. Their goal is the best possible outcome for their patients, and they always consider non-invasive methods before turning to surgery.

Dr. Otten spoke at Lawrence Hospital before an audience of more than 80 community members. His talk was titled “Neck and Low Back Pain: Prevention and Management.” He reviewed the common sources of back and neck pain, risk factors, when to seek medical attention and the latest treatment options for this problem.

“It was wonderful to see so many people from the community,” says Dr. Otten. “The questions and discussion proved that this is an educated group. They had done their homework.”

According to Dr. Otten, behavioral modifications are often enough to avoid and treat low back and neck pain. However, there are a handful of “red flags” that indicate it is time to seek medical help. Dr. Otten laid out the following warning signs:

  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Bowel/Bladder changes
  • Difficulty walking
  • Pain for longer than three days
  • Cancer or osteoporosis history
  • Fever or immunosuppression

“Once under medical care, patients are best treated by a team of medical professionals who can establish a treatment plan that progresses from the least invasive option,” says Dr. Otten. “This is true with surgery as well. We have many minimally invasive techniques that require smaller incisions and have quicker recovery times, and we choose those whenever possible.”

Dr. Otten says surgery should usually be considered only when conservative measures, like medication, rest, and physical therapy, have been tried and failed. In the case of trauma or worsening neurological function, however, surgery may be the first line of defense.

In his talk, Dr. Otten described two basic approaches to back surgery: Decompression and stabilization.

Decompression involves the removal of tissue or bone to relieve pressure on painful structures in the spine. This approach is appropriate in cases such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

Stabilization (also called fusion) involves implanting hardware such as plates and screws to minimize movement of the spine. This type of surgery is indicated in for problems like spondylolisthesis and spinal deformity.

Minimally invasive techniques are available for both decompression and stabilization types of surgery.

Dr. Otten’s dinner seminar at Lawrence Hospital was sold out. He was asked to give the same talk a few days later for those who couldn’t get in the first night. He happily obliged.

“Unfortunately, back pain is a common problem,” says Dr. Otten. “I hope that people now understand how it can often be prevented and treated, and what signs indicate that it’s time to see a doctor.”

Learn more about Dr. Marc Otten on his bio page here.

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