Susan, 38, has a high-stress job as a publicist in New York
City. She's also predisposed to back problems because she was born with a
misalignment in her hips. "I have to sit for long periods of time [at
work], so I get really, really stiff," she tells WebMD.
Stephen, 43, of Montreal, is under the gun at work and
at home. Seven months ago, he started a new company and got married in the same
week. He suffers from many of the ills that afflict people who work at a
computer all day, including back, wrist, and arm pain.
Having back surgery can be a difficult choice. Typically, people consider surgery for back pain only after all other treatments have failed to provide relief. Even then, surgery does not provide significant improvement for everyone. And while the risks of back surgery are generally low, they can be serious in some people.
Learning about back surgery ahead of time and understanding its risks and benefits can help you decide whether it's right for you.
Susan and Stephen are members in good standing of an
ever-growing club, one you don't want to join -- stressed-out white-collar
workers who find that their demanding jobs can become a real pain in the
Stress Seeks the Weakest Link
pain is probably the No. 1 reason for visits to doctor's offices, days off
work, disability, and litigations," says Gary Starkman, MD, a neurologist
in New York City who specializes in pain management.
The pain is usually caused by many different factors working
together at once, experts agree. Often, a physical factor, such as lifting or
sitting for too long, combines with stress, and the result is a painful back.
Where they don't agree, however, is about the degree to which psychological
stress on its own can cause back pain.
"Stress can surface anywhere a person has a weak link,
whether it be back pain, neck pain, headaches, or whatever," says
Rick Delamarter, MD, medical director of the Spine Institute at St. John's
Hospital in Santa Monica and associate clinical professor of orthopaedic
surgery at the University of California at Los Angeles. "If a person has a
propensity for back or neck problems, stress can easily bring them to the
surface or exacerbate them."
But according to physical rehabilitation specialist Michael
Saffir, MD, chairman of the Connecticut State Medical Society Worker's
Compensation Committee, "People can have muscle strain and spasm because of
psychological stress alone, but typically that's self-limiting. Take an Advil
and do some stretching and it will