The Spine & Back Blog

Female with back pain speaking with neurosurgeonBack and neck pain affects thousands of people. Sometimes, the pain is acute; sometimes it chronic back and neck pain. People manage this type of pain in many different ways. Sometimes they rely on non-surgical treatments for back pain like medication--both prescription and over the counter or non pharmacological treatment for pain like heating and cold solutions or stretching. If back pain continues, however, it's important to have it investigated by a physician who specializes in back and neck issues. In fact, your primary care doctor is likely to refer you to a spine specialist if your back pain continues unabated. If you're coping with back pain that will not subside, it's important to visit a spine specialist for help.

Getting to the Root of Neck & Back Pain

Often, people can pinpoint when and why their back and neck pain began. They may have suffered a back muscle sprain or strain after performing yard work or moving furniture. This type of back injury may clear up on its own after a few days or, in some cases, a few weeks. When back pain persists, over-the-counter medications can often be used to treat the issue during the healing process.

Chronic neck and back pain is another type of problem altogether. Your physician may have told you that if your back or neck pain persists for more than 12 weeks, you likely need a different sort of treatment or medical intervention. In many cases, your physician will refer you to a spine specialist like a neurosurgeon who can diagnose the problem and prescribe a remedy.

Your neurosurgeon is likely to discuss the various causes for your back or neck pain such as:

There may be other causes that your spine specialist can point to depending on your specific circumstances.

How Can a Neurosurgeon Help?

A neurosurgeon will review x rays and other tests in order to help with diagnosing back pain. Non-surgical treatments, like physical therapy, acupuncture, traction, and massage, to provide back pain relief are always considered first. Your spine specialist might recommend weight loss or lifestyle changes to help you combat pain and address the root cause of your back pain. If a surgical procedure is indicated to treat your back pain, your neurosurgeon will discuss minimally invasive procedures, stem cell injections, and spine surgery with you.

Dr. William Hunter, back and spine specialist

If you are concerned about back or neck pain you've been experiencing, make an appointment with Dr. William Hunter, spine specialist and neurosurgeon at NSSC Spine Clinic. He has the experience and expertise needed to treat all types of back pain. The NSSC Spine Clinic has been serving Gastonia and the broader Charlotte, NC area including Belmont, Mount Holly, Gaston County, Meckleburg County, and portions of South Carolina for over 20 years.

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There are many different causes for debilitating back pain - muscle spasms, muscle strains, a back injury, disc issues, and arthritic spine changes can cause so much pain. It is difficult to focus and perform even the most basic activities of daily living.  Regardless of the cause of back pain, chronic back pain can become debilitating and keep you from enjoying a happy, healthy life. The good news is, lower back pain relief is often just a few simple back stretches away.

Because back pain can be so debilitating, a lot of people turn to muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory and pain medications to deal with their pain.  However, most back pain can be resolved by lower back exercises to keep muscles that support your spine strong and flexible, as well as, keeping your core strong. Following a daily stretching routine can promote better functioning of the back, decrease back pain and reduce the amount or need for medications.

Why is stretching so effective?

Stretching everyday relaxes tight muscles and improves circulation helping to to alleviate back pain. Stretching also improves muscle strength and agility. Strong muscles in your back and your abdomen will help diminish pain and  lower the chance of future injury. However, in order to get the result you are looking for, it is vitally important to make and keep a daily stretching routine.

Which lower back pain stretches provide the best results?

  • Stretches for back pain: cat camel poses
    Cat-Camel Back Stretch
    Child’s Pose Stretch: Begin on all fours. Sit your hips back while reaching out your arms forward until a mild stretch is felt in the back. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
  • Cat-Camel Back Stretch: Begin on all fours. Arch your back towards the ceiling and hold. Then arch your back towards the ground and hold. Hold each stretch for 5 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  • Trunk Rotation Stretch: Begin lying on the mat with knees bent. While maintaining upper back flat on the ground, rotate legs towards the floor until a stretch is felt. Repeat the stretch on the opposite side. Hold each stretch for 5 seconds, repeat 10 times.
  • Hip Flexor Stretch: Begin by kneeling on a mat. Lean forward towards the bent front knee until a stretch in front of the opposite thigh is felt. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.
  • Hamstring Stretch: Begin sitting on the floor with one leg straight, and the other bent. While maintaining a flat back, lean forward by hinging from the hip until a stretch is felt behind the thigh. Repeat on the other leg. Hold each stretch for 10 seconds, repeat 5 times.

When To Stretch

While stretching is one of the most effective ways to relieve back pain, consistency is key. In order for stretching to work, you should plan to stretch at least 2 times every day. Stretching right when you wake up is a great way to start your day.  Stretching in the morning will increase blood flow to muscles and kick start your day. Stretching before you go to sleep will help relax and loosen any tight muscles and promote a good night sleep. In addition to stretching in the morning and night, try to incorporate these lower back stretches at work.

Back pain can keep you from feeling and performing at your highest level. With the right stretches for lower back pain, you can build strength, alleviate back pain, and maximize your performance. So why not give stretching a try!

Not Feeling Relief from lower back exercises?

Or, if you've been doing shoulder and neck stretches and still are experiencing neck and shoulder pain, there are alternatives to open spine surgery. Dr. Hunter at The Spine Clinic at the Neuroscience & Spine Center of the Carolinas specializes in minimally invasive surgery and non surgical treatments for back pain and any back injury. Non surgical treatments include accupuncture, steroid shots, electrical stimulation, and stem cell injections.

If you're in the Gastonia or Charlotte area, or even South Carolina, Dr. Hunter can help. Conservative treatment is our approach, unless you've exhausted all options. You can rest easy knowing you'll be accurately evaluated, and have access to the most cutting-edge techniques and facilities available in the country.

Ready For Your Back Pain Consultation?

Call 704.864.5550

Dr. Hunter, neurosurgeon in Gastonia, NC, celebrates his 20 year anniversary at the Spine Clinic (source: Hunter celebrated his 20th year of practice at NSSC Spine Clinic this past June. Dr. Hunter joined the NSSC Spine Clinic in June, 2000, after working for 2 years at the University of Wisconsin Hospital Department of Neurosurgery. 

Board Certified for over 20 years, Dr. Hunter and his staff strive to provide the most up to date advanced spine surgery techniques and procedures. While providing quality care at Caromont Regional Hospital, Dr. Hunter continues to bring new and innovative spine techniques to his practice. 

“It has certainly been a pleasure to be able to provide neurosurgical care for the past 20 years to the residents of Gaston County and the Charlotte area,” said Dr. Hunter. “A lot has changed at this practice over the past 20 years and I am looking forward to continue to expand our services in the coming years.” 

About The NSSC Spine Clinic

Located in Gastonia, The Spine Clinic of Neuroscience and Spine Center of the Carolina specializes in treatments for chronic back and neck pain, spondylolisthesis, lumbar spinal stenosis, spinal injuries, lumbar degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, as well as issues involving the brain and nerves. We offer brain surgery, carpal tunnel surgery, non-surgical treatment, surgical minimally invasive procedures, stem cell injections, and spine surgery.

Are you suffering from pain and in need of a doctor who can help you with your back pain? Call our office today!

XLIF® procedure: Placing the femoral nerve from anterior to posterior position

Dr. William D. Hunter of Gastonia, N.C., performs an XLIF® procedure. The nerve featured here was found to be in the anterior position. It is safer to have the nerve placed posteriorly. The video demonstrates a technique used to safely place the nerve in the posterior position. Once the nerve’s position is altered, the XLIF® procedure can continue – the disk can be removed and the graft can be placed.



Hello, this is a video to describe how to move the femoral nerve posteriorly safely when performing an XLIF procedure. After making the skin incision, you can see there’s a fat plane which we dissect through. Once the fat plane is identified we can then identify the fascial plane which is above the muscle area. We clearly can see the muscle plane, and you need to clearly identify the muscle region. Taking the fascial plane away from the muscle is important. This then allows us to enter into the retroperitoneal space using a single finger dissection. Once in the retroperitoneal space, we can then place our initial dilator. The black dilator then goes on top of the psoas muscle, and then using the neural monitoring system, we can traverse through the psoas muscle. This is going to help identify where the nerve is located - whether it’s anterior, superior, inferior, or posterior - using the white mark. At this point in time we notice that the initial dilating, monitoring system is telling us that the nerve in anterior. Instead of taking the whole dilator out and starting all over again. We proceed with placing the k-wire and then the additional dilators into the region. We do know that the nerve is anterior to our dissection. We will be able to move the nerve posteriorly; however, we need to have better visualization. In doing so, we then place the additional dilators: the purple and then also the blue dilator. Again, this is telling us that the nerve is anterior. We then place the retractor system using AP and lateral x-rays, we fully identify the location of how the retractor system is set. Having the k-wire then placed, we take all the retractor systems out and initial dilators out. Then we use the neural monitoring system, noting that there is a nerve anterior. Below the suction, and right where the monitoring system was noted. At this point in time, we try to see whether we can fully identify the nerve itself. Sometimes we may need to have to adjust the retractor system, and clearly between these two instruments you can see the large femoral nerve. What we now want to do is try to establish an area interior to this nerve; therefore, we’ll continue to dissect the region and identify an anterior region for placement of the k-wire. With this dissection, we can clearly see that there is a disc anterior to the anterior part of that nerve. Because of the micro-bleeding, we will go ahead and proceed with the bipolars to bipolar the micro bleeding in the region closest to the posterior fade. Once this has been completed, we then can take the k-wire, which is currently posterior to the nerve, and place anterior to the nerve. The critical component is doing this under direct visualization. At this stage, you can see that the k-wire will now be removed and placed anteriorly. Once the k-wire is placed anteriorly, we then place the initial black dilator. Now, we subsequently remove the retractor system. Once the retractor system is removed, we then place the second dilator and then the last balloon dilator, noting that the nerve is now posterior. We then proceed in placing the retractor system again using a neuro-monitoring system, we know that the nerve is posterior to the blade. We then open the retractor system, and we can now see that there is muscle - small muscle bands above the disk material. Prior to doing anything with that muscle, it is imperative that we use the neuro monitoring system again to make sure that the nerve is posterior. Once we know that the nerve is posterior to the posterior blade, we are now in the safe zone. We use x-rays - AP and lateral - to help identify the location of the disc with regard to our retractor system. Once we feel we are in the safe zone - after using the monitoring system again to fully identify that the nerve is posterior to the posterior blade, and that the muscle is off of the disc - we place the shim, which will then help secure the retractor system in place. Then use an identifier to help note that we are in the safe zone, and that we have plenty of room to perform our discectomy, and then once the discectomy is performed, to place our graft and perform a fusion. This is the technique to place the nerve posterior to the posterior blade.