Feb 10, 2015

Many patients I see have suffered with back pain for months or even years and are desperate for relief. Spine surgery may seem like a magic pill when other treatment options have failed, but patients still need to be sure that their condition is one that surgery can address effectively.

It is important for patients to understand the risks associated with surgery so they can form realistic expectations about potential outcomes. Unfortunately, there are many common misconceptions about back surgery. Here are some that I often encounter:

  • Back surgery is a cure. Not all pain is treatable by surgery. Spine surgery can buy a patient time and can eliminate the source of pain, but it certainly doesn’t offer a guarantee against future back pain.
  • Back pain stems from one source. Just because a patient has a cervical disc replacement doesn’t mean that he or she won’t develop sciatica (pain down the leg) or another back issue later in life.
  • An artificial disc replacement is the best surgical option for me. Artificial disc replacements are receiving a lot of buzz lately and are becoming a more popular option for patients requiring surgery. While an artificial disc replacement offers some advantages over fusion surgery, it’s not an option for many patients. The procedure tends to work best for younger patients with single-level disc disease.
  • It’s better to deal with weight loss, high blood pressure, and other health conditions after my surgery. The truth is that some health issues can impact surgical outcomes, so it’s best to talk to your physician about the potential impact of your health conditions in advance. For example, one recent study showed that conditions such as diabetes and obesity may increase the risk of infection after low back surgery. Losing weight or normalizing blood sugar levels before your surgery could minimize risks.

The bottom line is that patients who address all their concerns and fears prior to surgery, have realistic expectations, get their medical house in order, and have family or friends for support, will likely experience better recoveries and outcomes.