Sometimes, conservative treatments for back pain can only provide minimal relief. Or they may not work at all. Back pain can be a challenge to diagnose and treat. In some cases, surgery may be the right option for you.
Many of today’s surgeries are minimally invasive, which may allow you to go home the same day and experience a quicker recovery than traditional open surgery.
Traditional vs. Minimally Invasive Surgery
Each patient’s history, diagnosis, and needs are unique. When surgery is the best option, your surgeon will carefully consider whether traditional or minimally invasive surgery is your best choice. Minimally invasive surgery is easier on the patient, but not every patient or condition is a good fit.
Traditional (open spine) surgery involves making one long incision in the back to access the spine. Soft tissue and muscle must be pushed or pulled out of the way or removed from the bone. This method results in more muscle damage and pain after surgery than minimally invasive methods and requires a longer recovery.
Minimally invasive surgery is performed through one or more very small incisions and uses slim surgical tools and robotic assistance. Using a tiny camera and a monitor, your surgeon can see inside your body without making a large incision. There is much less muscle and tissue involvement with minimally invasive surgery, leading to benefits like:
- Less anesthesia
- Less blood loss
- Lower infection rates
- Shorter hospital stays
- Faster, easier recovery
- Less pain and pain medication use
- Reduced scarring
Recovery from either type of surgery is very individual and may be influenced by the degree of damage, difficulty of the surgery, age, overall health, and other factors. A full recovery can take months and may require physical therapy. Your doctor will give you specific instructions for your recovery.
Types Of Spine Surgery
Some of the surgical options for back pain include:
Discectomy – A discectomy removes the portion of a disc that is bulging out of place, irritating a nerve. Surgery typically requires the total or partial removal of the vertebra to gain access to the disc.
Disc replacement – Artificial discs can be implanted in place of damaged discs to correct painful movement between vertebrae caused by injury or degeneration of a disc.
Foraminotomy – If a bulging disc or thickened joint is compressing a nerve, a foraminotomy can enlarge the space where the nerve root exits the spinal canal. This relieves the pressure on the nerve.
Fusion – A spinal fusion adds stability to a section of your spine by connecting two or more bones. It can stabilize a fracture or eliminate the painful motion between vertebrae caused by injury or degeneration of a disc.
Laminectomy – Also called spinal decompression, a laminectomy enlarges the spinal canal by removing part of the bone that covers it. This relieves the pressure on the nerve caused by spinal stenosis.
Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty – These procedures repair compression fractures caused by osteoporosis. During the surgery, glue-like cement is injected to strengthen the bone.
Who Should Have Spine Surgery?
Surgery may be a good option if non-surgical treatments haven’t relieved your pain, it is persistent, and it interferes with your day-to-day life.
Most surgeries will focus on decompressing nerves, stabilizing the spine, or both. The goal of surgery is to relieve your pain and increase the function of your spine.
Back surgery can relieve pain or numbness in the arms or legs caused by compressed nerves in the spine. Common causes of compressed nerves are disc damage or bone overgrowth.
Spine surgery may treat many conditions, including:
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Cauda equina syndrome (a rare nerve root problem)
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated or ruptured discs
- Pinched nerve
- Spinal stenosis
- Spondylolistheses (one or more bones slipped out of place)
- Vertebral fractures
Spine Surgery Risks
Whether minimally invasive or traditional, every surgery comes with a risk of complications. Although complications are rare, they can include:
- Blood clots in the legs called deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- Leaking spinal fluid
- Loss of some flexibility
- Nerve or spinal cord injury
- Reaction to the anesthesia
- Risks associated with being positioned face-down during surgery
- Tissue damage
Is Spine Surgery Right for You?
Back pain can be very challenging to live with. When non-invasive treatment doesn’t relieve your pain, ask your doctor if surgery is an option for you.
If you think spine surgery may be right for you, schedule a consultation appointment today.