Treatment Options for Chronic Back and Leg Pain

From 25 to 30% of the people in the United States deal with chronic pain.1 Fortunately, there are also many available treatments. Doctors often try medication first. Other options include physical or psychological therapy, surgery, nerve blocks, or medical devices like Medtronic’s neurostimulators and drug pumps.

Talk to your doctor about the right pain treatment for your chronic back and leg pain. Not all treatments may be applicable to your type of pain. Treatments include:


Doctors often try medication first. Because each person responds differently to medication, your doctor may try a variety of doses and drugs. Medications range from over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen, anti-inflammatory steroids, and stronger pain medicines.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy attempts to build or recondition muscles – allowing you to move more normally and with less pain. Your doctor may recommend passive physical therapy, such as massage and applying heat/cold, or active treatments, such as exercise.

Psychological Therapy

Chronic pain can bring stress that affects you, your relationships, and your body. Psychologists are available to work with you on relaxation techniques and coping and self-monitoring skills.

Corrective Surgery

Your doctor may do tests, such as MRI or CT scans, to look for the cause of your pain. If the test reveals a problem that is known to be corrected by surgery, your doctor may recommend this treatment.

Therapeutic Nerve Blocks

Therapeutic nerve blocks are local anesthetic and/or steroid injections given at the origin of pain. Nerve blocks usually provide temporary pain relief. If your pain is not managed after multiple injections, your doctor may consider other treatments.

Medical Devices

Medical devices, such as Medtronic neurostimulators or drug pumps (intrathecal drug delivery systems), are surgically placed devices that modulate pain signals before they reach the brain:

  • Neurostimulators – send mild electrical impulses to the spine, masking the perception of pain messages to the brain
  • Drug pumps – deliver pain medication directly to the fluid around the spinal cord (called "the intrathecal space"), requiring only a fraction of the medication that would be needed if taken orally

Unlike some surgeries, these treatments are reversible. Your doctor can turn it off or remove the system. In addition, you can try these therapies temporarily before you receive a permanent implant.


With neuroablation, doctors destroy (usually with heat) the nerves that serve as pathways to the brain. Neuroablation is often a last resort when other treatments have failed.


  1. Loeser JD, Butler SH, Chapman CR, Turk DC, eds. Bonica's Management of Pain. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Penn: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2001:3-16.

Information on this site should not be used as a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.

Last updated: 22 Sep 2010

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