Most people hope to avoid having spine surgery whenever possible. With many instances of spine-related pain, this is usually doable with a combination of treatments. Though often effective for many patients, physical therapy exercises, chiropractic adjustments, and spinal injections don’t always provide sufficient relief. While nobody looks forward to any type of surgery, there are certain injuries, especially ones that weaken the spine, that often respond better to surgical treatment options. The qualified Los Angeles spine surgeons at The Spine Institute have put together a list of 5 serious injuries that can be treated with spine surgery.
1. Herniated Discs
Inner disc material that’s pushed outward causes pain when nearby nerve roots are irritated. Damage to a spinal disc may also cause it to move out of its normal position, which can make the backbone less stable. Surgery is usually recommended for herniated discs when:
- Non-surgical treatments aren’t effective after 4-6 months
- Symptoms are severe or potentially life-threatening
- There’s significant spinal instability
Fusion surgery involving bone graft material and special hardware is usually recommended when disc herniation affects the stability of the spine. A discectomy may be performed to relieve nerve pressure. An alternative to fusion surgery involves the use of artificial discs.
2. Spinal Deformities
Some people are born with spinal abnormalities that cause little or no discomfort until later in life when the spine changes with age. Other times, a condition may worsen due to an injury. Common spinal deformities that may contribute to chronic pain and spinal instability include:
- Scoliosis (sideways curvature of the spine)
- Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Kyphosis (abnormal rounding of the upper spine)
The specific surgery performed will depend on what’s being compressed or how spinal stability is affected. With kyphosis, fusion surgery often helps by preventing motion in the affected area of the spine. Rods and wires may be attached to the spine to correct issues due to scoliosis. Decompression procedures are usually performed on patients with spinal stenosis.
3. General Spinal Instability
Spinal cord injuries and underlying health issues such as arthritis of the spine (osteoarthritis) are among the potential causes of spinal instability or weakness. Fusion procedures that join or “fuse” vertebrae, usually in the lower back or neck, are typically performed to increase stability of the spine. Such procedures may result in:
- Less pain during movement
- Relief from numbness, tingling sensations, and other symptoms associated with radiating nerve pain
- Less reliance on medications, some of which can become addictive with long-term use
Lower back pain, discomfort extending the buttocks and hips, and tight or weak leg muscles that sometimes cause limping are among the symptoms associated with spondylolisthesis, a condition where one vertebra slips forward over the adjacent one below it. When surgery is necessary, recommended procedures typically include:
- Discectomy – Part of the damaged disc is removed to ease nerve pressure
- Laminotomy – A portion of the roof of a vertebra (lamina) is removed to create more space for nerve roots
- Foraminotomy – Excess bone or tissue is removed from the space between vertebrae for the nerve roots (foramen)
- Posterior (from the back) or anterior (from the front) fusion – When there’s spinal instability because of disc slippage, a fusion procedure may be recommended
5. Chronic Low Back Pain
Simply having persistent lower back pain doesn’t mean surgery is necessary, or even possible if there’s no clearly identified structural issue contributing to pain. However, surgery may be considered if the pain can be linked to:
- Damage due to degenerative disc disease
- Bone spurs
- Spinal joint fractures
- Nerve compression
There are many types of surgery that may increase stability of the spine and take pressure off of compressed nerves. Fusion surgery is the most common stability procedure performed in the United States. It’s also a fairly reliable operation with a success rate between 70 and 90 percent. Take comfort in knowing many of the procedures performed today, including some types of fusion surgery, involve minimally invasive techniques that can mean shorter recovery periods and fewer risks for patients. There are also many alternatives to spinal fusion surgery that have proven to be beneficial.
Whether you need a Coflex implant or traditional fusion surgery, you can trust Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of professional spine surgeons to find the most effective treatment for your injury. To schedule an in-person evaluation, call The Spine Institute today at 310-828-7757.