Definition of spine surgery
Spine surgery is a surgical procedure aimed at alleviating back pain from a herniated disk or other issues. This type of surgery may also be performed to change the patient's spinal structure. Once severe back pain is diagnosed, it may require surgery to correct the problem and alleviate the pain.
Some cases of back pain can be relieved by back surgery, but it is rarely necessary. In most cases, back pain goes away on its own within a few months and with the help of medication to alleviate the pain.
Reasons for spine surgery
Pain in the lower back or lumbar region is one of the most common reasons people seek the care of their primary physician. The main reasons people suffer from low back pain is due to bad lumbar support and posture as well as problems related to the following:
- Herniated disks
- Abnormalities like scoliosis
- Vertebral fractures
- Spinal stenosis
- In some cases, chronic back pain could be due to genetics
Problems with the back usually respond to conservative or non-surgical treatments like anti-inflammatory medicines, gentle massage, heat and physical therapy.
- Heart attack
- Nerve damage
- Blood clots
Do you need spine surgery?
If non-surgical treatments have been tried but were unsuccessful at helping to relieve your back pain and as a result, your back pain prevents you from going about your daily activities, spine surgery may be an option. Back or spine surgery is most often successful for a pain that is also associated with numbness or pain that travels into one or both legs or arms.
This radiating or referred pain is often caused by pinched or compressed nerves in the spine. A variety of different conditions can cause compression on the nerves, including:
- Disk problems: Ruptured (herniated) or bulging discs. These are the cushions that separate your vertebrae (the bones of your spine). Sometimes they can press on spinal nerves and irritate them.
- Overgrowth of bone: Conditions such as osteoarthritis may cause the excess bone to grow (bone spurs) that limits the amount of space available through which the nerves travel.
Sometimes herniated or bulging discs are present for a long time and cause no pain. They show up on x-rays that were taken for an unrelated condition. This is why it can be difficult to find the exact reason for back pain, even if bone spurs or problems in the discs show up on x-ray.
How do specialists diagnose the need for spine surgery
- MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans
- CT (Computerized Tomography) scans
- Bone scans
- Blood tests
- Nerve studies
Spine surgery recovery
There are several different types of back surgery including:
- Discectomy: This operation involves removing the bulging or herniated part of a disc, which then relieves the inflammation and irritation it was causing to a nerve. In order to access the ruptured disc, the surgeon typically has to remove part or all of the lamina, or back portion, of a vertebra.
- Laminectomy: In this procedure, the bone that lies over the spinal canal is removed. This relieves pressure on the nerves caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal by creating more room in the canal.
- Fusion: This operation reduces pain by making the spine more stable. It is also used occasionally to keep the vertebrae from grinding on each other when a disc is worn out or damaged. The procedure permanently joins two or more vertebrae together, making them immobile.
- Artificial discs: This is a relatively new alternative to spinal fusion to relieve pain due to a damaged or degenerated disc. For many people, these devices are not an option.
Treatment and care after spine surgery and for back pain
Consider all options
Leg and back pain can be complicated issues that need a team of medical professionals to treat. So before you decide to have back surgery, think about getting a second opinion. Back surgeons often have differences of opinion related to whether surgery is needed, what kind of surgery may be best and what other treatments are available.