Chronic Back Pain

Ohio State Spine Care will diagnose the severity of your chronic back pain and know which approach will restore you to the highest level of function possible with the least-invasive treatment.

Pain is a feeling set off in the nervous system. Acute pain lets you know that you may be injured or have a problem you need to address. Chronic pain is different. The pain signals go on for weeks, months or even years. The original cause may have been an injury or infection. There may be an ongoing cause of pain, such as arthritis or cancer. But, in some cases, there’s no clear cause.

Problems that cause chronic back pain include:

  • Ligament and muscle strain
  • Cancer
  • Arthritis
  • Pain from nerve damage
  • Disc pressing on a nerve

Chronic pain usually can’t be cured, but treatments can help. They include medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, electrical stimulation and surgery. Other treatments include psychotherapy, relaxation and meditation therapy, biofeedback and behavior modification.

Learn more about brain and spine neurological conditions at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


Chronic back pain can feel like:

  • Aching back muscles
  • Shooting or stabbing pains
  • Radiating pains down into the legs
  • Pain that worsens with activity, especially bending, lifting, standing or walking
  • Pain that lessens when reclining

Diagnosing chronic back pain

Many factors can contribute to your chronic back pain.

Your initial visit to Ohio State Spine Care may be with a spine surgeon, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist or nurse practitioner. Additional specialists provide their expertise as needed.

We’ll listen to you carefully and perform a thorough examination to assess your range of motion and areas of pain.

To further confirm your diagnosis, we offer:

  • X-rays of the spine
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electromyography (EMG) studies, tests that measure the electrical activity of muscles and nerves

Chronic back pain treatment

Our physicians recognize and understand the pain characteristics of back conditions. This helps us develop an effective, personalized treatment plan for you.

Your treatment most likely will include several options, and you’ll be the primary decision-maker.

At Ohio State, we exhaust all nonsurgical options first before recommending a more invasive procedure.

Nonsurgical treatments

One of Ohio State’s strengths is our physical therapy program, with therapists who specialize in complex, degenerative spine conditions. Following an examination of posture, back mobility, strength and flexibility, our physical therapists customize a plan for you, which takes into account any impairments or functional limitations you have. Typically, you’ll work one-on-one with a therapist on pain-relieving movement strategies and on improvements in strength and flexibility.

Additional nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Education on back care and recommendations for specific needs (such as job demands, recreational activities, home activities)
  • Real-time ultrasound imaging (RUSI) of movement in the spine area to re-train the deep stabilizing musculature of your spine (a highly researched, evidence-based intervention)
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Weight loss guidance emphasizing healthier eating and exercise to ease pressure on the spine
  • Pilates, yoga and aquatic therapy to strengthen back muscles
  • Acupuncture (provided at Ohio State Spine Center) or dry needling for pain control through Ohio State’s Center for Integrative Medicine
  • Biofeedback and behavior modification

Advanced nonsurgical options

When conservative treatments have been unsuccessful, we can offer:

  • Spinal injections, such as epidurals or nerve blocks, directed toward areas where pain originates, with the aim of eliminating or relieving pain.
  • Spine orthobiologics, also known as stem cell therapy, activates the body’s natural healing process through injections of the body’s own healthy cells into the injured area to stimulate tissue regeneration and natural healing.
  • Radiofrequency ablation (also called radiofrequency neurotomy) to help with chronic pain that can't be resolved with the short-term relief provided by nerve blocks and spinal injections. Information from these treatments, however, helps us pinpoint where the pain originates along the spine. During an ablation procedure, our spine specialists are guided by X-rays to visualize the spinal joint causing pain. We use a probe to deliver heat generated by radio waves to disable nerves that are causing pain and to interfere with their ability to transmit pain signals. The procedure offers you long-term pain relief and doesn't harm nerves that control movement or sensation in the legs.
  • Spinal cord stimulation in the Center for Neuromodulation provides an option when surgery isn't indicated or desired. A device similar to a pacemaker, usually implanted under the skin in your abdomen or upper buttock, sends mild electrical impulses. You use a transmitter that controls the signal, which changes pain messages before they reach the brain. Instead of pain, you feel a soothing, tingling sensation.

Surgical treatments

When other treatment options have failed, surgery can benefit you under certain circumstances:

  • Decompression surgery (laminectomy): If a particular nerve is causing pain, a spine surgeon can remove the pressure being placed on the nerve by moving, widening or removing bone causing the pressure.
  • Spinal fusion surgery: When vertebra (bones of the spine) are out of alignment and causing instability in the back, a spinal fusion surgery can be performed to permanently join two vertebra together.
  • Spinal canal surgery: Surgery around the spinal canal (opening in vertebrae through which the spinal cord passes) can be performed to repair a damaged disc.

Why choose Ohio State for treatment of chronic back pain?

Comprehensive Care: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has multiple options in one location to treat chronic back pain. Our experts will diagnose the severity of your condition and know which approach will restore you to the highest level of function possible with the least-invasive treatment.

You can receive these services at Ohio State Spine Care:

  • Consultations with physicians
  • Imaging tests (X-ray, CT and MRI)
  • Pain management procedures
  • Physical therapy

Team Approach: At Ohio State, your care is not limited to just one physician’s perspective. We have a clinical team available to determine the source of your pain and make the most accurate diagnosis for you.

Among the experts at Ohio State Spine Care are:

  • Physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians
  • Physical therapists
  • Radiologists
  • Neurologists
  • Spine surgeons with neurosurgical and orthopedic training
  • Pain specialists/anesthesiologists

We involve you in decision-making as we work together to formulate an individualized treatment plan for you.

Physical therapy expertise: Our physical therapists specialize in spine conditions, working with you one-on-one to alleviate pain and improve strength and coordination.

Surgical expertise: For the majority of people with chronic back pain, surgery isn’t necessary. But if your quality of life is compromised, our fellowship-trained spine surgeons can address the most challenging surgical cases, helping people who haven’t found help elsewhere. We perform more complex spine surgeries than any other medical center in central Ohio.

Research: You’ll benefit from our involvement in national and international trials that provide you with the most current methods for chronic back pain treatment.

New technology: We rely on new technology to deliver better care for our patients. Recent additions include an implanted nerve stimulator that won’t interfere with an MRI scan. We also recently acquired a device to perform radiofrequency ablation, which uses radio waves to provide long-acting pain relief in the joint above the tailbone.



Ohio State conducts innovative research in the laboratory, as well as through clinical trials.

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Areas of focus include:

Biomechanical Testing: We are doing biomechanical testing to assess the spine before and after surgery. A specialized vest helps us assess your spinal movement and measure the effectiveness of surgery. It ultimately may provide valuable information about which treatment methods will best increase mobility and function of the spine.

Back Pain Consortium: We are members of the International Consortium for Health Outcomes Measurement (ICHOM). Membership in this elite organization allows us to engage with other top U.S. medical centers in global research studies on back pain. As we measure our results against established international standards, we share best practices and elevate our standard of care.

Patient Education

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Learn more about spine conditions and treatments

Our Spine Providers

Additional Information

Please obtain a physician referral before scheduling with our Spine Center and request previous imaging studies (e.g., MRI, CT, X-ray) on a CD from the place where your tests were performed. Please bring to your appointment these and other test results related to your back (e.g., EMGs, bone density reports, ultrasound reports) from your doctor(s).

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