Is all Spine Surgery the Same?

You and your doctor should take great care in determining whether or not spine surgery is the right answer for you.

We sometimes hear patients say, "My neighbor had spine surgery and is much better. Why isn't it being done in my case?" Or, we may hear the opposite: "My sister had spine surgery and feels awful. Why are you recommending it for me?"

When Is Surgery Recommended?

As a general rule, at BIDMC we treat patients who have back pain and neck pain conservatively - not with surgery.

On the other hand, when we see patients with back or neck problems who also have evidence of nerve compression, we often recommend surgery, with good results.

Remember - this is a general guideline, and your case may present additional factors leading to different recommendations. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the specifics of your case, and how surgery may or may not help improve your symptoms.

Is Spine Surgery Right For Me?

As you and your physician are exploring options to treat your condition, it is important to keep the following points about spine surgery in mind.

The outcome of spine surgery depends in large part on the reason the procedure is done.

That is, two patients may have the same surgery for different reasons, with different results. Some patients have lumbar fusion procedures for back pain, but may still have pain after the surgery. Other patients may have the same procedure to treat lumbar stenosis associated with neurologic deficits (such as numbness or weakness in the arms or legs, or balance issues), and are likely to feel much improved. The same operation has produced different results.

Expectations drive satisfaction.

Sometimes, patients are not satisfied with spine surgery because they did not have realistic expectations about the procedure. They may feel better, but not to the extent they hoped. They may then tell others, "All spine surgery is bad." Again, talking with your physician about the specifics of your case - including what outcomes you should expect from various treatments - will help make sure you get the treatment that is truly best for you. Remember - the ultimate decision is up to you as the patient.

New types of surgery are being developed.

Not all spine surgery is the same. At BIDMC, we have physicians with expertise in a range of innovative techniques, including minimally invasive spine surgery. Your doctor can provide more information about whether these approaches may work for you.

Some types of spine surgery (or other treatments) that you may hear or read about may not be as helpful as they sound.

Because back pain and related issues are so common, many different approaches are always being tried. But some of these may not be as good as they sound, or may not have the scientific evidence to show they are as effective or as superior as their promoters claim.

If you have any questions related to treatments for your spine condition that may not be offered at BIDMC, please bring this up with your physician. Together, you can discuss ways in which you, as a health care consumer, can find out more about whether a particular treatment is right for you.

Please talk with your doctor about this information, and about any other information you have heard or read about spine surgery. Make a list of questions and be sure you understand the treatment approach being recommended for you.