Benefits and Risks of Back Surgery

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Back surgery is serious business, for many reasons.  You have the spine, which houses the main nervous system to the body and limbs, for a start.  Then, it also flows to the brain and the entire system of bodily controls.  Yet, if you are in pain or have an injury, the surgical solutions are sometimes necessary for a full recovery.  Deformities and progressive deterioration are other problems.  Then, you would consider the age of the person, lifestyle, and the handicaps versus the risk of surgery.

The good news is that many of these procedures have become safer and even routine, while less invasive than ever.  If all non-invasive methods have been tried, if you cannot function on a daily basis, and patience has run out, it is time to weigh the pros and cons of back surgery.  And, remember that back surgery is unnecessary in a majority of cases.

Always get a second and even third opinion, if in any doubt.  Be aware that even the best of surgeries will take time for recovery, and the longer you have been in pain, the longer the nerves take to settle-down.  And, there is homework to do, as well as the follow-up physical therapy or simple exercises.  If you have had a major incident with your back, your back may remain diminished forever. Yet, not all injuries will heal themselves, and so surgery is considered.  There are many excellent websites and clinical publications, but one of the best is, with a medical advisory board, and many, many options.

Any surgery has risks, with anesthesia and hospitalization issues.  Several newer options include out-patient surgery, such as percutaneous diskectomy, or the “needle” surgery to dilate swelling and remove the damaged part of a ruptured disc.  There are also much-improved laser surgeries, and endoscopic back surgery.  These can be highly successful with certain conditions.  Of course, all patients must be screened for pre-existing health and complications.  So, if possible, opt for an out-patient surgery which could be less expensive and allow for a quicker recovery. 

The scary one is open back surgery.  This is the most extreme.  This can include diskectomy, as described above; laminotomy, or removal of bone to relieve pressure; fusion, to stabilize the spine; vertebroplasty, addition of material to stabilize the spine; and artificial disks, upon which the jury is still out.  You would still be putting a foreign object into your body, with the risks of rejection.  There are also procedures for both laminotomy and diskectomy.  This is always desirable, if possible.

No-one wants to spend the rest of their life limping, or eating dinner standing up from the pain.  You must inform yourself in a very specific way, with your own medical history and circumstances.  It is always a Pro to have health insurance, and coverage for some options.  And it is always important to try non-surgical solutions first.  There are different parameters for birth defects and deformities or progressive conditions versus acute injuries.  It takes patience and prioritizing to work through the pros and cons, but you will find your way, the more you read, and the more questions you ask.  Good Luck in reclaiming your life.


                 personal experience, percutaneous diskectomy

More about this author: Andrea Theisson

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