When May Spine Surgery Be Appropriate?

Most people suffering from back pain will not need spine surgery. However, for a small percentage of these patients, spinal surgery becomes the best option for pain relief.

The good news is that even if you do require spine surgery, many modern procedures are minimally invasive and do not take as long to heal as traditional, open back surgery. Your doctor could make a recommendation for spine surgery based on your diagnosis and medical history.

Failure of Conservative Treatment

In most cases, patients undergo conservative treatment to see if that will relieve their pain and allow them to regain mobility. Typical conservative treatment includes the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, physical therapy, massage, a custom-tailored exercise program, hot and cold therapy, and spinal injections.

Patients with spinal pain can expect to undergo a conservative treatment regimen for at least three months to experience results. If conservative treatment fails to work, a doctor may recommend surgical options.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows, compressing the nerves within. It is a common condition in older people. Symptoms include weakness, pain, and numbness, usually in the neck or lower back. These symptoms usually increase with time. When the narrowing is severe, the doctor may recommend one of various potential types of surgery to open up the spinal canal.

In a laminectomy, the rear part of the affected vertebrae is removed. This procedure is also known as decompression surgery, since it decompresses the trapped nerves. If that option is not preferable, a laminotomy is a simpler operation that removes just enough of the lamina—the flat or arched bone plates covering the spinal canal—to relieve nerve pressure. Alternatively, a laminoplasty can be performed on the cervical, or neck area, of the spine to create a “hinge” of sorts that opens up part of the spinal canal.

Emergency Spinal Surgery

Most people realize that if they are in an accident and suffer a spinal injury, emergency surgery may prove necessary. Recent trauma is not the only reason that a patient may require an emergency spinal surgery. Patients suffering from cauda equina syndrome (CES) often need quick action on their spinal problems. Symptoms of CES include:

  • Loss of feeling in the legs, buttocks, thighs, or feet
  • Bladder or bowel function issues
  • Sudden loss of sexual sensation and ability
  • Sudden, severe back pain
  • Weakness or pain affecting the ability to walk or get in or out of chairs

Without prompt surgical treatment, patients with CES may experience permanent nerve damage, including paralysis or loss of bowel and bladder control.

Spinal Tumors

If a patient is diagnosed with a spinal tumor, surgical removal is necessary. Not all spinal tumors are cancerous, but the surgeon must find out if the growth is benign or malignant.

Early symptoms of spinal tumors mimic other causes of low back pain. Pain from spinal tumors usually increases at night and after engaging in physical activity. The pain may also spread from the back to the arms and legs, leading to increased difficulty in walking and difficulty with bowel and bladder function.

The doctor diagnoses a spinal tumor via X-rays, CAT scans and MRIs. A biopsy of the tumor can be performed to determine whether the tumor is malignant and, if cancer is confirmed, the type of tumor involved. The latter information determines the type of surgery necessary.

Contact One of Our Spine Surgeons Today

If you would like more information about spine surgery and whether you are a candidate, call our office today and arrange a consultation. While your back pain may be treatable by non-invasive methods in the end, there is no risk or harm in making sure that all the potential bases are covered—and the sooner an issue that will need surgery to correct is identified, the more effective treatment for it often can be.