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Low Back Pain - Surgery

When you're in a lot of pain, you might wonder if you need surgery to fix what's wrong so that you can feel better.

Every case is different. But most people don't need surgery for low back pain.

Most back surgeries are done to treat nerve pain from herniated discs.

  • Most herniated discs heal—and pain eases—after a few weeks or months of treatment.
  • About half of people with herniated discs get better within a month without surgery.
  • After 6 months, most people with herniated discs have recovered. Only about 10 out of 100 end up having surgery.1

When surgery may help

Surgery might be an option when a disc problem causes pain in your leg that prevents you from doing everyday tasks. You may have pain, numbness, or tingling through your buttock and down the back of your leg (sciatica camera.gif) or in the front of your thigh.

Other problems that may require surgery include:

  • A spinal fracture caused by an injury.
  • An infection in your spine.
  • A problem that causes your spine to be unstable.
  • A tumor in your spine.
  • Spinal stenosis.
  • Loss of feeling or weakness in your back or legs that gets worse over time.
  • Loss of control of your bowel or bladder.

Having surgery for a herniated disc or another back problem is a big decision. Talk to your doctor about it.

Surgery choices

There are several types of back surgery. Some, like a discectomy, can help people who have severe symptoms. Others have not been proved to work.

If you do need surgery, you and your doctor will decide which type is best for you. Types of surgeries include:

Rehabilitation after surgery

A comprehensive rehabilitation program is very important after most back surgery. As you regain flexibility, recondition your back and stomach muscles, and increase your endurance for activity, you increase your chances of treatment success.

If you are unable or unwilling to commit to physical therapy after surgery, you may not be a good candidate for surgery.

Deciding whether to have surgery

If you and your doctor are considering surgery, get as much information as you can about possible results, and consider whether you will be willing to do physical therapy after surgery. It is also a good idea to get a second opinion before you decide to have surgery.

Interactive Tool: Should I Consider Surgery for My Low Back Problem? calculator.gif
Herniated Disc: Should I Have Surgery?

Back surgery isn't always successful. Depending on the condition, you may still have back pain after surgery.

1

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 19, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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