Approximately 80 to 90 percent of the population is personally familiar with spine-related aches and pains. Fortunately, most instances of back pain are temporary or manageable with conservative treatments such as medication and physical therapy. If you’ve reached a point where your spine has become unstable or nerves are being compressed, spinal surgery may become an option. Make more informed decisions about your care by considering the 5 “W”s of spinal surgery – who, what, where, when, and why, shared by experienced Los Angeles spine surgeons from The Spine Institute.
1. Who May Need Spinal Surgery?
Spine surgery can be performed on patients of all ages. Fusion surgery is the most common type of spine surgery performed, followed by decompression procedures meant to relieve nerve pressure. However, spine surgery is not recommended for every patient with back pain or related symptoms. Surgery is generally suggested to address problems related to mechanical (axial) lower back pain or spinal instability. Spinal surgery may also be needed for patients with:
• A spine affected by fractures (broken bones)
• An abnormal curvature of the spine
• Chronic lower back pain with a related structural cause
• Mechanical back pain caused by age-related disc wear (degenerative disc disease)
• A spine weakened by infection or tumors
2. What Happens During Surgery?
If spinal surgery is being done for decompression reasons, the process may involve removing bone spurs, taking out a damaged disc, or widening the spinal canal to relieve pressure on nerves. When fusion surgery is performed, two or more vertebrae are connected with special hardware (e.g. plates, screws, rods) and bone graft material.
3. Where Is Surgery Performed?
The lower back is the area of the spine is where surgery is performed the most, mainly because this is the most mobile part of the spine. The cervical spine (neck) is another frequent place where surgery is done. However, all segments and parts of the spine may be surgically corrected.
4. When Is Surgery Recommended?
Unless there is a medical emergency or symptoms are severe, the decision on when to have any type of spinal surgery depends on several factors. If conservative treatments aren’t effective, a determination of whether or not to suggest spine surgery is usually based on:
• Image test results
• The specific diagnosis (there must be a correctable issue with the spine)
• How much symptoms will likely improve following surgery
With fusion surgery, patients may have another procedure first to address disc-related problems. For instance, part or all of a damaged disc may be removed (discectomy) or a bone covering the spinal column may be removed (laminectomy). Such procedures sometimes cause the spine to become unstable enough to require fusion surgery.
5. Why Is Spine Surgery Done?
Spine surgery is done for one of two reasons: to stabilize the spine or to relieve nerve pressure. As for why people consider spine surgery, the most common reason is to boost overall quality of life. It’s important to realize that simply having spine surgery doesn’t mean you’ll experience instant relief. The process also involves:
• Waiting for vertebrae to fully fuse together (if fusion surgery is done)
• Participating in rehabilitation or physical therapy
• Making positive lifestyle changes to prevent additional spine-related problems (e.g. eating healthier foods, getting more exercise)
Most common spine procedures today, including fusion surgery, can be done with less invasive techniques that often minimize risks and reduce recovery times. However, if you’re not ready to move forward with plans to have surgery and there’s not an urgent need to do so, you may benefit from pain management solutions you haven’t yet considered, such as epidural injections, electrical stimulation, chiropractic adjustments, and mindful meditation.
There are many options to treat spine-related pain. To figure out the treatment procedure best suitable for you, reach out to The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of experienced professionals can identify the cause of the pain and help you determine if you require a procedure such as Coflex surgery. Los Angeles patients can call 310-828-7757 to schedule an in-person evaluation.