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Doctor says relieve back pain without surgery

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. _ Oh, my aching back.

It's a familiar moan. Each of us has probably suffered back pain in some form, and has been struck with the fear it could change our lifestyles dramatically if it didn't go away.

Even more so, we may fear seeing a doctor, and what we may be told.

But whether you have a severe condition, or a case of too much weekend-warrior activity, pain that doesn't let up, or that comes and goes often enough for you to notice, needs attention.

"You shouldn't ignore your symptoms," cautions Dr. Stuart Eidelson, an orthopedic spinal surgeon, who wants to get the word out that back pain can be treated. And very often without surgery.

It sounds strange, coming from a surgeon. But he is conservative when it comes to putting people on the operating table.

"Ninety percent of patients don't need the surgery," says the man who started the Web site,

Overweight and pregnancy can bring on back pain, and even family genetics can make you prone to back trouble.

But there are many treatments, from physical therapy, to acupuncture, to over-the-counter pain medications, to prescription drugs.

"A lot of people say you have to live with the pain. No. There's a whole host of non-surgical treatments. And with more significant pain, we can do a nerve block. Or minimally invasive injections. We don't open the back until the last resort," Eidelson says.

And while pain needs to be treated in a way that makes life comfortable for you, there are ways to avoid backaches. Eidelson is a strong proponent of regular exercise. It's a good way to keep your weight down and reduce stress on your spine, and often can be incorporated into treatment even when you already have pain problems.

"The most important thing you can do to keep your spine and the rest of your body healthy is exercise," he says.

And a tour of his Web page produces concurring opinions.

"Exercise has been recommended in the treatment of acute low back pain for decades," writes Dr. Gerard Malanga, director of Sports, Spine & Orthopedic Rehabilitation at the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J.

(That's where actor Christopher Reeve was hospitalized for six months following his spinal cord injury.)

A book available Sept. 1, "Quick Fixes for Everyday Back Pain" ($12.95, Marlowe & Co.) lists some basic strengthening exercises, and suggests craniosacral therapy, practiced by Jupiter's Dr. John Upledger, for pain relief.

First, of course, patients have to be relieved of their pain. Once that's accomplished, they can go on to exercise. And to finding how best to deal with their discomfort.

For the more than 65 million Americans who suffer from low back pain every year, no one suggestion can be right.

"But if it's bad on a day-to-day basis," says Eidelson, "take action. There is a very precise ladder of treatment."

Carolyn Susman writes for the Palm Beach Post. E-mail:

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