Back Pain: 4 Important Questions To Ask Your Doctor Before Spine Surgery

Stress-Free Spine Surgery

Over 39% of American adults experience some form of back pain. These conditions include herniated discs, spinal stenosis, degenerative discs, or fractures. These conditions can cause pain and stiffness, and eventually impact the quality of life. At some point, an orthopedic surgeon may suggest spine surgery. Today, surgeons perform over 900,000 spine surgeries yearly thanks to minimally invasive techniques. However, the thought of spine surgery is still stressful for many patients. Asking the orthopedic surgeon these 4 questions before proceeding can help patients feel more at ease.

1. Is surgery really necessary?

Despite the many surgeries performed yearly, orthopedic surgeons prefer to avoid operating on the spine when possible. When surgery is suggested, both surgeon and patient would have tried non-surgical means for some time to improve the patient’s condition. Some conservative methods include pain medication, physical therapy (PT), and temperature therapy. More advanced options include nerve blocks, radiofrequency ablation, or spinal cord stimulation. Surgery is only necessary if these methods fail or the surgeon observes an issue that needs immediate attention.

2. What are the benefits and risks?

Like all major surgeries, spinal surgery has benefits and risks. An orthopedic surgeon will only suggest surgery if the benefits outweigh the risks. This surgery is often performed with minimally invasive technology, meaning the surgeon will use small incisions to access the spine. For the patient, that means less post-operative pain, faster recovery, and fewer infections. Spinal surgery also has a high success rate. That said, all procedures come with risks. Some risks of spinal surgery include bleeding, reduced flexibility, infection, muscle weakness, and nerve damage. The surgeon will take steps to mitigate any possible complications.

3. What does recovery look like?

Many factors determine the length and success rate of recovery. In other words, the recovery varies from person to person. Thanks to minimally invasive surgery, recovery timelines are shorter. The patient will need at least 6 weeks to recover from a procedure like a laminectomy or partial discectomy. Spinal fusions like anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) can take much longer. For all procedures, recovery will include pain management, wound care, and extensive physical therapy. There will also be periodic check-ins with the doctor to monitor the progress of the surgery.

4. What’s your experience with similar surgeries?

A doctor’s surgical experience is critical for success. Spinal surgeries are delicate, and failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) is possible. For the best results, the orthopedic surgeon must be skilled in performing the desired procedure. Most surgeons are also board-certified, meaning there is a high level of care, experience, and quality. Don’t be afraid to ask the surgeon about past procedures, possible complications, and patient testimonials.

Get informed, make a decision

Spine surgery is by no means an easy decision. The procedure has many benefits, but there are also possible risks. Most surgeries have high success rates and high patient satisfaction rates. During a consultation with the surgeon, don’t hesitate to ask these and other questions before proceeding. Being fully informed helps patients make the best decision for an improved quality of life.


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