Back Surgery: Pros and Cons
By the time you sign up for back surgery, your doctor will probably have tried a number of treatments to ease your back pain. While there are no guarantees the operation will provide relief, there are lots of options. Learn as much as you can about back surgery ahead of time. The more you know, the better the choice you’ll make.
What Are the Benefits?
Often, the result is more than just a drop in pain. You may find:
- You can move around better.
- You're more physically fit.
- Your mood improves.
- You don't need to take as much pain medicine.
- You can go back to work.
- You're more productive at work.
Are There Risks?
Most people who get back surgery have no complications.
That said, any operation will have some degree of risk, including:
- Reaction to anesthesia or other drugs
- Blood clots, for instance in your legs or lungs
- Heart attack
- Herniated disk
- Nerve damage, which can lead to weakness, paralysis, pain, sexual dysfunction, or loss of bowel or bladder control
The odds that something could go wrong go up for people with certain health conditions. They also vary by type of surgery. Part of your surgeon's job is to identify potential problems. So talk it over before you head to the OR.
Back Surgery Pros and Cons
Each type comes with its own risks and benefits.
Spinal fusion. This is the most common surgery for back pain. The doctor will join spinal bones, called vertebrae, together. This limits the motion between them and how far your nerves can stretch. But it probably won’t limit your activity. It’s rare, but the bones don’t always fuse completely. Smoking can make this more likely. If it happens, you may need another operation to fix it.
Laminectomy. In this procedure, a surgeon removes parts of the bone, bone spurs, or ligaments in your back. This relieves pressure on spinal nerves and can ease pain or weakness. It can make your spine less stable. If that happens, you’ll probably need a spinal fusion. Doctors sometimes do the two procedures together.