Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Dr. Justin Hohl, an orthopedic surgeon, discusses back pain at The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — The right kind of surgery can often take care of an awful pain in the back.

When surgery isn't an option, however, other methods can provide relief, albeit temporarily, said Dr. Justin Hohl, a spine surgeon at Intermountain Healthcare's The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital and Alta View Hospital.

"There are so many things that can cause back pain," he said. "It is sometimes hard to tell where the pain generator is."

Hohl and Intermountain Orthopedic and Spine Therapy Clinic physical therapist Esther Smith will participate in the Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline on Saturday to answer questions on neck, back and leg pain. From 10 a.m. to noon, anyone interested is welcome to call 800-925-8177 or post a question on the Deseret News Facebook page, and the health professionals will provide confidential advice.

Hohl said he almost always recommends surgery for lower back or leg pain caused by a compressed nerve. He said results are quite reliable and the success rate is high.

Before surgery is considered and following a thorough evaluation and an MRI, a variety of other methods can be tried, including physical therapy, steroid injections and/or anti-inflammatory medications. But Hohl said pinched nerves, which often cause leg pain as well, get the best relief from surgical methods.

"The anatomy of the spine is very complex," he said.

The spine houses an intricate bone and nerve structure, as well as plentiful soft tissue. It takes great understanding to know where the nerves are being compressed, Hohl said.

"It requires great control but also great power and force to take away the bones and discs and other things that could be compressing the nerves," he said, "and you have to do it all within a tiny margin of error to protect the nerves at all times."

Nerve compression is common in the working younger population and older individuals who suffer from arthritis, Hohl said. As the body ages, the spine tries to stiffen itself. Bone spurs and thickening ligaments can end up pinching nerves and cause chronic back pain.

There are more than 30 nerves in the spine that have the potential of being pinched, he said.

While arthritis and other conditions that cause neck, back and leg pain can be hereditary, injury can sometimes be prevented by having a good, healthy back, careful lifting and keeping extra weight off.

"Unfortunately, a lot of people have bad genes or a bad back, and there's not much we can do about age," Hohl said, adding that with the proper treatment, "a lot of patients go from being miserable to feeling good."

Saturday: Back pain and proper posture

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Hotline Saturday

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The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Health Hotline focuses on neck, back and leg pain. From 10 a.m. until noon Saturday, Dr. Justin Hohl, an orthopedic surgeon at Intermountain's The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital and Alta View Hospital, and Esther Smith, a physical therapist at the Intermountain Medical Center's Orthopedic and Spine Therapy Clinic, will answer questions. Call 800-925-8177 during that time. Those interested can also post questions during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page,


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