Normal wear and tear, trauma, improper body mechanics, and aging can cause injury to the spine. Back pain results when damage occurs to any part of the spine or in case of excess pressure on the nerves of the spine.
However, spinal or back surgery is needed in only a small percentage of cases. Most instances of back pain can be treated non-surgically, with medication, ice, heat, massage or physical therapy. Back surgery is considered when all other treatment forms fail to offer relief. However, it is important to know if a patient’s particular condition will get resolved through surgery or not.
When is spine surgery needed?
A surgery of the spine may be needed in the following conditions:
- Compression of spinal nerves causing severe back pain and numbness along back of leg.
- Ruptured spinal disc (herniated disc).
- Fractured vertebrae or broken bones, and an unstable spine, leading to osteoporosis.
- Failed non-surgical treatments.
Benefits of spine surgery
The primary reason for spine surgery is to alleviate back pain. Reduced pain is also accompanied with additional benefits:
- Increased activity and improved physical fitness
- Less dependency on pain medication and fewer drug side effects
- Increased productivity at work
- Improved mood
Risks involved in spine surgery
Like all surgeries, surgery of the spine also carries certain risk factors. These include:
- Bleeding; blood clots
- Heart attack; stroke
- Recurrent disc herniation
- Nerve damage
Different types of spine surgery
Surgeries of the spine used to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves include:
- Laminectomy – The bone overlying the spinal canal is removed to enlarge the canal. This surgery is performed to relieve nerve pressure caused by spinal stenosis.
- Discectomy – In this procedure, the herniated portion of a disc is removed to relieve irritation and inflammation of a nerve. Conducted in form of an open surgery, it involved partial of complete removal of a back portion of a vertebra to gain access to the ruptured disc.
- Spinal fusion – This procedure causes permanent fusion of two or more bones in the spine. It helps to relive pain in a patient by adding stability to a spinal fracture. It may also serve to remove painful motion between vertebrae that can result from an injured or degenerated disc.
- Artificial disc implantation – Artificial discs are an alternative to spinal fusion to ease painful movement between two vertebrae due to a degenerated or injured disc.
- Vertebroplasty – Bone cement is injected into compressed vertebrae; the procedure can also help stabilize fractures and relieve pain in case of compressed or fractured vertebrae. Kyphoplasty is a similar but more expensive procedure in which a balloon-like device is inserted to expand compressed vertebrae before injection of bone cement.
A second opinion from a qualified spine specialist can prove insightful when making a decision of going ahead with spine surgery. Different surgeons often hold different opinions over the timing of surgery, type of surgery to perform, and the need for surgery.
Also, some patients with back pain or leg pain who undergo an initial spine surgery also undergo additional surgeries. This is true mostly of people dealing with chronic pain. Therefore, it is important to look at the pros and cons of undergoing a surgical treatment for the spine, in accordance with the team of healthcare professionals.