Frequently Asked Spine Questions

1. What is wrong with my back? Why am I in pain?

There are many conditions that can be the source of arm, leg and back pain. Spine problems, or pathologies, seen on xray or MRI scan, are not always the source of the pain. A detailed history, physical examination, and investigation into other possible causes for pain is always performed. If your problem is felt to not be related to the spine, you will be referred accordingly to other specialists that can help you with your problem.

2. Do I need surgery?

There are very few spine problems that absolutely necessitate surgery. A few of these problems include the treatment of cauda equina syndrome, some spine infections, and certain spine fractures. Surgery is often recommended, on an elective basis, to help decrease arm or leg pain, and to improve function. As with anything in life, there are risks and benefits to the various recommended procedures, and there are no guarantees with surgery. However, most spine surgeries have been shown to help a great deal of patients. It is important to consider all aspects about surgical treatment options, including recovery, time away from work, and potential complications, before pursuing surgical treatment.

3. What treatments are available that do not involve surgery?

Many nonsurgical treatment options have been recommended over the years for spine problems. There is relatively good research evidence to support the use of these treatments. These nonsurgical treatments range from simple exercise, core strengthening, and physical therapy, all the way to specialized nerve injections. In most cases, it is useful to consider these options first, and exhaust all nonoperative treatments before electing for spine surgery.

4. What will surgery be like? Will I be in pain?

Spine surgery, as like all surgeries, can be quite scary. There will be many unfamiliar faces involved with your care, and this can be a very stressful time. Please know that we will do everything in our power to make your time with us before and after surgery as comfortable as possible. There will be pain with any invasive treatment, but we do our best to minimize this pain, and to promote early ambulation after surgery.

5. If I have surgery, how long will I be out of work or how long will I feel different?

This can be a difficult question to answer. Everyone responds differently to surgery, and some jobs are more physically intense than others. Return-to-work time is also influenced by the procedure needed. For example, a spine fusion surgery patient will likely remain out of work for several weeks longer than a simple microdiscectomy patient. It is good to anticipate that anywhere between 4 to 8 weeks of healing time will be needed following surgery, and possibly as long as 12 weeks. Again, there are many factors related to this number, and it is impossible to predict. In the majority of cases, you will have no walking restrictions, and walking is encouraged early after surgery.

6. What are some of the complications with surgery?

Potential complications following any surgery are numerous, but overall, complications following spine surgery are low. Complication risk is dependent upon the patient’s health and well-being before surgery, as well as the surgical procedure being undertaken. The most common complication risks are that of infection, bleeding and blood loss. Multiple measures are taken to decrease the risk of bleeding and blood loss. Occasionally, despite utilizing these blood-saving measures, patients may require a blood transfusion, but all efforts are made to avoid this. Other complications include nerve irritation or injury (temporary or permanent), failure of the instrumentation (breaking of plates, screws, or rods), blood collections (hematomas), a leakage of spinal fluid or spinal fluid collection (pseudomeningocele), difficulty with swallowing (dysphagia), blindness, persistent pain, failure of symptoms to improve, and the need for further surgery.

7. How can I prevent the need for surgery?

Losing weight, quitting smoking, and staying physically fit will help reduce the likelihood of needing spine surgery. Sometimes, despite these measures, surgery is needed to help relieve a patient’s arm, leg, or back pain.

8. Would you, yourself undergo surgery if you were the patient?

Electing to have surgery is a very personal decision, and a lot of factors go into deciding whether or not to have surgery. That being said, the surgical procedures offered are based upon what I would do for a family member, or what I would want to have done to myself if given the same spine problem.

9. Can I get a second opinion?

YES! Of course! Spinal surgery is a huge commitment and can be quite scary. Obtaining a second opinion from another surgeon is never a bad idea. At times, a different solution or surgical procedure may be offered. It will be up to the patient to make an informed decision after weighing the different options and opinions.