January 8th, 2009
10:32 AM ET

What can I do for relentless back pain?

As a new feature of CNNhealth.com, our team of expert doctors will answer readers’ questions. Here’s a question for Dr. Gupta.

Asked by Jerry, Naperville, Illinois

"I had neck surgery with fusion a year and a half ago for triple-herniated cervical discs. About two months post surgery, I started having whole-body neuropathy pain that continued to get worse. The numbness, pins and needles, electrical discharge and cramping make life terrible for me and my family. I take pain pills as well as pain injections but nothing seems to help. I cannot imagine living like this another 30 years. Any ideas or suggestions? I am age 59, male, and in otherwise good health."


Jerry, I am so sorry to hear about your terrible pain. As you may know, I am a neurosurgeon and specialize in diagnosis and treatment of spinal disorders. Let me first say that there is almost no reason to continually suffer in pain.

For those who are not familiar with the condition, herniated cervical discs can cause several different types of problems. Besides pain, which is what usually brings someone to my office, patients may also have arm weakness or numbness. In addition, cervical spine or neck problems can cause pressure on the spinal cord, which can cause difficulty walking and reflex problems, which can be diagnosed by your doctor.

In your case, Jerry, it sounds as if there were three separate areas causing troubles, and the surgeons need to make a decision as to whether decompress and fuse from the front of the spine or the back of the spine. Unfortunately, it sounds as if you may have a persistent compression of the spinal cord, based on what you are describing. First step is to get an updated imaging study.

If an MRI cannot be performed, then another study such as a CT myelogram might help determine whether another operation may be of benefit. It sounds like oral medications and injections have not been of much help, and I would recommend seeing someone in a pain clinic and possibly a neurosurgeon who specializes in the treatment of pain. Nowadays, there are operations such as spinal cord stimulators and pain pumps, which may be of some help to you as well.

Good luck Jerry. Be strong and don't give up hope.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.