October is National Spinal Health Month and we reached out to Dr. Zee Khan, orthopedic spinal surgeon at Utica Park Clinic, to speak about the importance of spine health. Dr. Khan first became interested in being an orthopedic spine surgeon while he was in a previous career position as a jet mechanic. After helping an older patient, Dr. Khan realized he wanted to pursue being an orthopedic spinal surgeon, noting “spine surgery was meant for me - itis the way I can make a difference in people’s lives.”
Dr. Khan helps patients with many different spine-related concerns including back pain, degenerative spinal disorders, neck pain, fractures of the spine, scoliosis and more. Dr. Khan shares that, “disability due to spine problems is the number one problem in the world that affects us. Itis the number one morbidity that will prevent us from going to work. It’s not that when you have back pain, you don’t go to work. A lot of people that have back pain go to work, but they’re not as productive. When you have a knee problem or a hip problem, you can sit down. When you have a back problem, you can’t find a comfortable position. That affects your quality of life; it affects how you interact with people and it affects everything around you.”
Many patients come to Dr. Khan thinking that if they have spinal surgery, all of their pain is going to go away. Dr. Khan explains that is not the case, adding “spine surgery is just step one in the many steps of a lifestyle change that you have to have.” Dr. Khan clarifies that he uses spinal surgery as a last resort, adding “I only do spinal surgery if a patient has neurological issues. For me, the purpose of back surgery is not to address the back pain itself because there are many factors that affect that.” According to WorldSpineDay.org, there are several ways to prevent back pain including maintaining a healthy weight and diet, maintaining proper posture, not smoking and participating in physical activity.
Walking us through the patient process, Dr. Khan details that he gets to know his patients very well during his time with them. Many different medical professionals refer patients to Dr. Khan. He is always careful to review the patient workup he receives so he can provide the best treatment. He shares, “when the patient comes in, we first do an x-ray of the lumbar spine, above the neck, and depending on what is affecting them, we look for problems there. I ask, ’Is there instability? Is there arthritis? Are there pinched nerves?’ Once that has been done, we do a physical examination.” During this process, Dr. Khan checks the neurological status of the patient’s muscles, examines their joints and observes how they walk to make sure there are no other issues causing the patient’s symptoms. Afterwards, they undergo either an MRI or CT scan, then the patient sees Dr. Khan again. “We refer to the studies and try to put the entire picture together,” Dr. Khan explains, adding that he prefers to proceed with non-operative measures if possible.
Dr. Khan discusses dietary changes, physical therapy, aqua therapy, epidural injections and more to help patients with their pain while avoiding surgery. Dr. Khan shares, “surgery should be a last resort. I like to implement other changes first, then follow up with the patient and see how they’re doing. If they’re doing fine, then we move on and if they’re not getting better or responding the way we want them to, or if they’re deteriorating neurologically, then I’ll move forward with offering to do surgery.”
If you are having back pain and are interested in seeing Dr. Khan, please call 918-574-0220 to make an appointment.