At 78 years old, my father has his share of aches and pains. But lately he's been complaining more and more about back pain. X-rays show he has mild spinal stenosis. We think he would do better and have less pain if he would take an antidepressant, not have another surgery. Is it possible that an antidepressant could help?

There are two sides to every coin. Whereas depression has become a very common disorder, especially in older adults, anti-depressants aren't always the quick and easy answer.

On the other hand, depression is known to cause joint and/or muscle aches and pains. An antidepressant is certainly less invasive than surgery to correct the problem. And if the X-rays show a mild case, then other conservative measures might be helpful.

Besides antidepressants, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be helpful. Physical therapy to improve posture and spinal alignment may also help. Sometimes a local injection of steroids gives patients long-lasting pain relief.

Surgery is the most successful treatment for moderate to severe cases. But if there is a mental disorder of any type, surgery isn't likely to make a big difference.

Ken Y. Hsu, MD, et al. Quality of Life of Lumbar Stenosis-Treated Patients in Whom the X STOP Interspinous Device Was Implanted. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. December 2006. Vol. 5. No. 6. Pp. 500-507.

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