Having back surgery can be a difficult choice. Typically, people consider surgery for back pain only after all other treatments have failed to provide relief. Even then, surgery does not provide significant improvement for everyone. And while the risks of back surgery are generally low, they can be serious in some people.
Learning about back surgery ahead of time and understanding its risks and benefits can help you decide whether it's right for you.
Pierce Dunn thought surgery had put an end to nearly 15 years of back pain. After a double discectomy about eight years ago, he says, "I could wake up in the morning without worrying that I wouldn't be able to get out of bed. I became a human being again!"
Feeling revitalized, Dunn, now 57, a partner in a Baltimore investment advisory firm, decided to return to his former hobby: golf. "I played as frequently as I could," says Dunn. "Since then I've been told that golf is about the worst thing you...
Less need for pain medicines with fewer drug side effects
Ability to go back to work
Increased productivity at work
But not everyone experiences a reduction in back pain after surgery. Studies show it's difficult for surgeons to accurately predict who will benefit and who won't. For this reason, and because most back pain improves with time, experts recommend trying non-surgical treatments like physical therapy before considering back surgery.
Risks of Back Surgery
The overwhelming majority of people who undergo back surgery have no complications during or after surgery.
All surgeries, though, carry some degree of risk. The general risks of any back surgery can include:
Some risks might be higher for certain people. And the level of risk may also vary depending on the type of surgery. Part of the surgeon's job is to help you identify your risk from back surgery. Talking with your doctor before a back surgery is the best way to understand your personal risk.
Types of Back Surgery: Risks and Benefits
Each type of back surgery comes with its own risks and benefits.
Spinal Fusion. Spinal fusion is the most common surgery for back pain. In a spinal fusion, a surgeon joins spinal bones, called vertebrae, together. This restricts motion between the bones of the spine. Fusion also limits the stretching of nerves.