Our practice features a team of board-certified Spine team, Sport physicians, and orthopedic specialists who are highly qualified to offer treatment for a full range of complex spine conditions including the following:
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most common problems treated by orthopedic doctors. It can be caused by a number of factors, including the natural effects of aging, injuries and fractures, protruding disc, osteoporosis, and sprains/strains in the lower back. Although the effects of age, decreased bone mass, and reduced muscle strength cannot be avoided, lower back pain can be lessened with regular exercise to keep supporting back muscles flexible and strong; taking care when lifting and moving; maintaining proper body weight; the avoidance of smoking; and exercising proper posture. For those with severe and chronic pain in the lower back, the spine team at McKinley Orthopedics, Sports Medicine, and Spine in Alaska can evaluate you and come up with a treatment plan that may improve the condition. In most cases this can be accomplished without the need for surgery.
A fracture or break in the cervical vertebrae of the neck is what’s known as a broken neck or broken back. They typically result from a high-energy trauma like a car crash or a low-energy trauma like a fall from standing height. The severity of the injury will determine treatment; some cases can be treated with bracing while others may require surgery. Many spine fractures occur without nerve damage and it is important to be evaluated after the sudden onset of neck or back pain even if the cause or event seems small.
A common occurrence in car and skiing accidents, whiplash is often caused by the sudden movement of the head and neck upon impact with a solid object. Symptoms of whiplash usually fade fairly quickly; however, some people can develop chronic conditions stemming from whiplash that can cause severe pain, and even disability. Symptoms include: stiffness and pain in the neck; pain in the lower back; dizziness; ringing in the ears; blurred vision; shoulder pain; headaches; fatigue; problems with memory and concentration. Treatment for whiplash will depend on the severity. Often, immobilization with a cervical (neck) collar is utilized. Sometimes, icing the area in the first 24 hours after whiplash has occurred, followed by gentle movement, will help. Physical therapy massage, heat, ice, exercises, pain relievers, and other remedies have all proven effective in treating some patients with whiplash. Chronic symptoms of whiplash may require surgery.
A pinched nerve in the neck (cervical radiculopathy) or back (lumbar radiculopathy) is caused by an injury near the nerve root in one of the vertebrae. The condition can lead to pain, numbness, and/or weakness in the arms or legs including the shoulders or hips. Often caused by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or degenerative disc disease, radiculopathy can be treated with rest, medication, and/or physical therapy. Over a period of about 6 to 12 weeks, pain should be reduced. However, if pain is not relieved after this time, surgery may be the best option to relieve pain and restore function and movement to affected areas of the body. You should always contact a doctor if you are experiencing the above-mentioned symptoms in order to rule out more severe causes. If any neck injury leads to “fumbling” of the hands or any back injury leads to bladder or bowel problems, treatment may be needed emergently. The urgent care facilities at McKinley Orthopedics, Sports Medicine and Spine in Alaska can help evaluate these more urgent problems.
Problems with Neck Discs
Arthritis of the neck (cervical spondylosis) may develop as we get older, resulting from bony spurs and conditions affecting neck discs and ligaments which cause neck pain. Injuries and narrowing of the spinal canal may also lead to pain in the neck. This pain and discomfort can range from mild to severe to debilitating. Headaches, neck pain, numbness in the upper extremities, weakness in the legs, muscle spasms, and a grinding or popping sensation in the neck are all signs of cervical spondylosis. Treatment can include rest, medication, physical therapy and/or surgery to remove bone spurs or disc material.
Problems with Upper and Lower Back Disks
A herniated disc, often described as a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc in the upper or lower back, can cause significant pain in the chest, abdomen, upper back, or lower back and legs. Discs are located between the vertebrae and allow the back to bend or flex, and when they become herniated, they put pressure on the nerves causing pain, numbness, and/or weakness. These discs can become weakened and more susceptible to becoming herniated because of improper lifting of heavy objects, sudden pressure, repetitive strenuous activity, excess body weight, and/or smoking. Symptoms can affect both the back and neck, and include weakness in the arm or leg, a tingling sensation, loss of bladder or bowel control, and burning sensations in the arm, neck or shoulders. Treatment will depend on severity of symptoms; however, many patients can recover with bed rest and over-the-counter pain medications. Cold compresses, anti-inflammatory medications, heat applications, and other conservative treatment methods have also proven effective. For more severe cases, epidural injections, physical therapy or surgery may be necessary.
Kyphosis (Curvature of the Spine)
Kyphosis, or frontward curvature of the spine, has many causes, and there are also a variety of types. It is typically characterized by an exaggerated rounding to the back. The condition can become very painful and result in severe deformity. Dr. Kim Driftmier and the spine team at McKinley Orthopedics, Sports Medicine, and Spine in Alaska can examine you to determine if you are suffering from Postural, Scheuermann’s, or congenital kyphosis. With Postural Kyphosis, posture may improve over time and exercise routines can help with back pain; however, treatment will depend on the causes of the condition. Scheuermann’s Kyphosis can often be treated with exercise and anti-inflammatory medications, and possibly a brace for young children who have yet to reach skeletal maturity. In cases of extreme spinal curvature, surgery can not only improve deformity but also alleviate back pain.
A neck sprain can often result from a car accident or a hard fall which stretches or tears ligaments in the neck. Symptoms include neck pain, muscle spasms in the shoulders, headache in the back of the head, sore throat, difficulty sleeping and concentrating, numbness in the arm or hand, problems with range of motion, and weakness or tingling in the arms. Neck sprains usually heal themselves over time and with the proper treatment. A soft cervical collar may be necessary for a temporary period of time to relieve pressure on the neck. Aspirin or ibuprofen can reduce pain and swelling, and ice packs can also be beneficial to reduce discomfort and inflammation. More severe cases of neck sprain will typically take longer to heal.
Sciatica (Pain Radiating from the Back Down to the Buttocks and Leg)
Sciatica (sometimes called radiculopathy or claudication) is often caused by a protruding disc in the lower spinal column which presses against the sciatic nerve. This can feel like a bad leg cramp or a “buzzing” or “tingling” down the leg or hip. Symptoms include weakness, tingling, and numbness. The condition often affects those over 30 years old, and can be caused by the natural progression of aging and general wear and tear. More than three quarters of people who develop sciatica improve and recover without the need for surgery. Rest and time will typically let the condition heal itself, and some medications can also help. Physical therapy or epidural injections can also be used to treat sciatica, and surgery may be necessary for disabling leg pain that is chronic for more than three months. In rare cases of sciatica, the disc may hit certain nerves that cause you lose control of bowel and bladder functions. Numbness or tingling in the groin or genital region may accompany this. If this occurs, emergency surgery is necessary and you should contact a doctor immediately. Dr. Kim Driftmier and the spine team at McKinley Orthopedics, Sports Medicine, and Spine in Alaska are well equipped to help with this rare, but concerning condition.