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Guide to Low Back Pain - Low Back Surgery

Low Back Surgery

While most adults experience low back pain at some point, only very few will require surgery. Most types of low back pain can be effectively managed through a combination of exercise and other non-surgical treatments. For a small percentage of people, however, surgery may be necessary to allow them to reduce pain to an acceptable level and return to a normal level of daily activity.


Back surgery is typically considered if a patient has pain and difficulty functioning due to one or more of the following:

  • A nerve is irritated or pinched, causing pain to radiate down the leg (radiculopathy)
  • The spinal cord is compressed
  • There is abnormal movement in the spine, causing low back pain

As a general guideline, if the pain has not gotten better after several months of participating in a treatment program (e.g. physical therapy, medications, injections), the patient may be advised to consult a spine surgeon. If the pain is so severe that even narcotic medications do not help, and the patient is not able to accomplish basic daily activities such as driving or going to work, it may be prudent to consult with a surgeon sooner.

In addition to the level of pain and ability to function, another consideration is the type of surgery that would be performed.  Some procedures are minimally invasive and the patient may go home the same day as the surgery (e.g. microdiscectomy for a herniated disc), while other types of surgery are more extensive and require a longer hospital stay and healing time (e.g. a front-back fusion for degenerative disc disease).


Unlike many surgical procedures, low back surgery is typically elective, meaning that it is the patient’s choice whether to have the surgery or not.  Surgery is only absolutely necessary if there is compression causing bowel/bladder incontinence or progressive weakness, as well in conditions associated with fracture, tumor, or infection.


There are a wide range of possible types of back surgery, so it is in the patient’s best interest to research his or her options and ask the surgeon relevant questions.

 

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The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for medical advice in any way.  A licensed medical professional should be consulted for any and all medical conditions and symptoms.

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