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.

Surgery for Low Back Pain

Surgery to treat low back pain can be a far more extensive type of back surgery, with a longer healing period and a somewhat lower success rate, than back surgery for a pinched nerve (leg pain). If the patient does not get low back pain relief after 6 to 12 months of conservative treatment, however, a fusion surgery may be a reasonable option. When the patient has the right indications, low back surgery to stop the motion at a painful motion segment and remove the pain generator should reduce the patient’s lower back pain.

Recovery after Surgery for Low Back Pain or Leg Pain

After a spine fusion surgery, it takes 3 to 12 months to return to most normal daily activities, and the success rate in terms of pain relief is probably between 70% and 90%, depending on the condition the spine surgery is treating. Soon a total disc replacement – or artificial disc surgery – may also be available as a treatment option for patients with certain types of conditions that cause ongoing low back pain. For patients who are 55 or older, symptoms of back pain and/or leg pain are much more likely to be due to degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) that might result in a narrowing of the canal (spinal stenosis) and/or instability of one vertebral segment. Generally, the low back pain and/or leg pain created by these back conditions will get worse with walking and will improve with sitting. Often, the symptoms will have been present for years, and may get worse at a very slow rate. Once a patient gets to the point that he or she can no longer adequately function because of the low back pain, lumbar decompression with or without spine fusion may be recommended to help increase the individual’s activity tolerance and quality of life.

When Spine Surgery is an Emergency

The vast majority of spine surgery procedures to treat severe back pain and/or leg pain are elective.
However, there are a few symptoms that are possible indications of a serious medical condition, and
patients with these symptoms should seek emergency medical care. These symptoms include:

  • Sudden bowel and/or bladder incontinence (either the inability to retain or hold waste) or progressive weakness in the legs. Either of these symptoms could indicate nerve damage or cauda equina syndrome.
  • Severe, continuous abdominal and back pain, which could indicate an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Any patients with either of these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention as they may need emergency spine surgery.