More than a million spine-related procedures are performed each year to address everything from unstable spines to nerve compression affecting mobility and quality of life. When performing such operations, Santa Monica spine surgeons typically take every precaution possible to avoid damaging sensitive nerves. Even so, there’s always the chance nearby nerves may be irritated or damaged. While there’s no guarantee you won’t experience nerve damage as a result of spinal surgery, there are some steps you can take to minimize this risk as much as possible.
Explore Minimally Invasive Procedures
An increasing number of spine procedures are being performed with minimally invasive techniques, which is an approach to surgery that reduces the risk of nerve damage by using smaller incisions and special instruments. Nerves can also be protected with a different approach to accessing the affected part of the spine.
With XLIF (extreme lateral interbody fusion), damaged discs in the lower spine are reached from the side of the body. Minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) isn’t always the best option, especially if you have instability at multiple levels. Your doctor can help you determine if MISS might resolve discomfort due to:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Disc herniation
- Vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis)
- Spinal stenosis
- Scoliosis and other spinal deformities
- Spinal fractures
Work with a Physical Therapist
Physical therapy exercises can’t reverse nerve damage. However, doing these types of exercises can reduce the scar tissue that sometimes damages sensitive nerve roots in and around the spine. Scar tissue may contribute to new nerve damage following spine surgery. While scar tissue formation is how the body naturally heals, it can become an issue if it encloses nerves. Moderate exercise can minimize issues with excessive scar tissue in the surgical area by:
- Increasing the circulation that promotes healing
- Facilitating the removal of dead cells and toxins that can lead to scar formation as circulation increases
- Encouraging the formation of new, healthy tissue
Keeping muscles and other structures in or around the spine moving as much as possible may also reduce scar tissue formation, and it usually involves gentle stretching exercises. A physical therapist may also suggest activities like casual walking and water-based exercises that provide similar benefits without excessive pressure on a healing spine.
Consider a Second Operation
Nerve damage from an initial spine procedure may contribute to other issues that cause lingering pain. If this is the case, a second operation may be recommended to decompress damaged nerves. In some instances, affected nerves may be removed altogether. While doing so may reduce sensation, it may be preferable to living with ongoing discomfort. With therapy, it’s also possible to make adjustments to compensate for a loss of sensation, which may become less noticeable over time as you get used to it.
Get Temporary Relief with Nerve Injections
A more immediate way to minimize nerve discomfort is with injections directly into the affected area. Spinal injections typically include a local anesthetic and corticosteroid medication. The steroid medication reduces the inflammation that can make nerve pain worse. It’s important to understand injections aren’t a permanent solution for nerve damage. However, the relief experienced may allow you to:
- Benefit more from recommended physical therapy exercises
- Go about your daily routine without distracting nerve pain
- Heal nerves that were irritated but not completely damaged during spine surgery
Another way to reduce the risk of nerve damage is to determine if spine surgery can be avoided. Barring a pressing medical emergency, most spine procedures aren’t immediately necessary. Seek a few other options and talk to your doctor about chiropractic adjustments and other alternatives to surgery. If spine surgery is your best option for relief, asking as many questions as possible beforehand will give you a better idea of what to expect and what precautions you may be able to take to increase your odds of enjoying positive results without significant nerve-related issues.
Whether you need traditional fusion surgery or a Coflex implant, reach out to The Spine Institute. Our team of expert surgeons can determine the best plan of action for alleviating your pain. Call 310-828-7757 today to schedule an appointment.