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Back Surgery: Risks and Benefits

(continued)

Types of Back Surgery: Risks and Benefits continued...

Foraminotomy. During a foraminotomy, a surgeon cuts away bone at the sides of vertebrae to widen the space where nerve roots exit the spine. The enlarged space may relieve pressure on the nerves, thereby relieving pain.

A foraminotomy can sometimes result in reduced stability of the spine, similar to what happens in a laminectomy. A spinal fusion may be done at the same time. Doing so increases the amount of time needed for recovery but also prevents the spine from becoming unstable. If the spine becomes unstable after a foraminotomy, a spinal fusion can be done to correct the problem.

Discectomy. A bulging or "slipped" disc, the cushion that separates vertebrae, may press on a spinal nerve and cause back pain. In a discectomy, the surgeon removes all or part of the disc. A discectomy can be done through a large incision or through a smaller incision using tools from outside the body. A discectomy may be part of a larger surgery that includes laminectomy, foraminotomy, or spinal fusion.

Disc Replacement. In artificial disc replacement, a surgeon removes a damaged spinal disc and inserts an artificial disc between the vertebrae. Disc replacement permits continued motion of the spine. It is gaining popularity as an alternative to spinal fusion.

Recovery time for a disc replacement may be shorter than for a spinal fusion in many people. As with any foreign object placed inside the body, there is a small risk of the device dislodging or failing.

Interlaminar Implant. Another alternative to spinal fusion is the implant of a U-shaped device. The device is placed between two back bones in the lower back and helps maintain the space between. The procedure can be done at the same time as a laminectomy and surgical relief of pressure on the spinal nerves. Unlike spinal fusion, the implant provides stability without completely restricting motion. It does limit backward bending in the region where it’s placed, which helps to ease symptoms of spinal stenosis.

 

For most people, the main risk of back surgery is not gaining good relief from back pain after the surgery. Unfortunately, this risk is hard to predict or avoid. Talking openly with your surgeon can help you know what to expect from back surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 20, 2013
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