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How Winter Can Lead to Neck or Back Pain: When Is Surgery Needed?

January 12, 2022

This time of year, it doesn’t take much for people to fall on an icy surface or overexert themselves while shoveling heavy snow, injuring their neck or back. This can often cause pain, discomfort and affect quality of life.

Ultimately, seeing a spine specialist may be needed to help resolve the issue.

Injuries to the neck or back can affect muscles and ligaments or even fracture bones in the spine. I also routinely see patients with herniated discs from these injuries, which can result in pinched nerves. This typically manifests as pain radiating into the arms or legs and can cause debilitating discomfort if left untreated.

How do you know when it’s time to see a doctor after a fall or injury?

If pain symptoms persist for a week or longer and the pain is severe and constant, even when you’re lying down, you should be evaluated. Likewise, if pain is radiating into the arms or legs, that needs to be checked out. Neurological symptoms, such as weakness or numbness in the arms or legs, is reason to see a doctor right away because it can indicate a problem with the spinal cord. Getting an injury evaluated as soon as possible is important because the longer someone waits, the longer it could take to recover.

Even though I am a neurosurgeon, I consider surgery the last resort for the majority of patients. Our goal is to first get symptoms under control with a combination of nonsurgical treatments such as medications or physical therapy. Sometimes a spinal injection may be an option. But when someone has symptoms that persist or worsen despite these treatments, we start to consider surgery.

Many of our surgical treatments involve minimally invasive technology, which can help minimize postoperative discomfort – meaning the patient is home sooner and can recover faster. Our treatment options also allow patients to return to activities that were once causing them too much pain. Nobody should have to live with pain or discomfort – especially when it’s impacting their quality of life.

To help avoid neck and back injuries, it’s important to limit the stress on the spine. Maintain a healthy posture. When lifting something heavy, be sure to lift with your knees and not with your back. Maintaining strong core muscles through exercise can help stabilize the spine as well.

Some types of injuries are unavoidable. But when a spinal injury does happen, it is best to get it evaluated.

Dr. Gregory Kuzmik is a neurosurgeon and spine specialist with Hartford HealthCare’s Ayer Neuroscience Institute in Meriden and North Haven. For more information, or to book an appointment with Dr. Kuzmik, call 203.694.7550.