Here’s a fact that may surprise you: Only about 10 to 15% of patients suffering from back or neck pain require surgery.
And yet, many patients arrive at their doctor’s office resigned to the idea that they need spine surgery—some terribly anxious at the prospect. If a previous regimen of pills or shots has failed to eliminate pain, surgery is commonly viewed as the next step. Less reputable healthcare practitioners reinforce this idea with patients.
However, surgery is neither an inevitable cure-all nor is it a last resort if all else fails. Surgery is a well-thought-out treatment plan that targets a specific diagnosis and intends to permanently resolve the underlying cause of pain. The decision to proceed with surgery is made only after your spine specialist has diagnosed you with one of the few conditions requiring surgical intervention. Remember: The decision is more important than the incision. Your spine specialist must find the cause of your pain and match the treatment to the cause.
The decision to undergo spine surgery isn’t to be taken lightly. Surgery is irreversible, causes varying degrees of collateral damage to surrounding healthy tissues, and requires a period of recovery time that disrupts your ability to work and perform daily activities. When discussing surgery with you, your spine specialist or surgeon should explain what the chosen procedure will entail and how it will address your specific problem.
What Surgery Can Fix
Spine surgery is only used to treat a precise mechanical problem with the spine, usually covering an area smaller than your fingernail. Three common mechanical spine problems afflict patients:
- Nerve compression (otherwise known as a pinched nerve, this condition is caused by a ruptured, herniated, or bulging disc pressing against nerves in the spinal canal, or by stenosis, which is the narrowing of a bony area in the spine containing nerves)
- Abnormal motion in a spine segment (associated with cracks, loose ligaments, or worn-down joints)
- Fractured spine segments
In treating these conditions, a surgical procedure will focus on one of two goals:
- Decompression: Relieving pressure on a nerve.
- Fusion: Stabilizing a segment of the spine that is moving excessively.
To accomplish the stated goal, your surgeon will select the least invasive method possible to treat your condition, mitigate tissue impact, reduce pain and blood loss, and minimize recovery time.
What Spine Surgery Cannot Fix
If the cause of your back or neck pain is not mechanical, spine surgery is unnecessary because it won’t fix your problem. If you’re like the vast majority of patients suffering from back or neck pain, your diagnosis will fall into this category.
These are some of the most common non-mechanical causes of back and neck pain:
- Arthritis (joint damage or inflammation)
- Neuropathic pain (nerve pain common in patients with diabetes)
- Being overweight or obese (associated with physical inactivity, which weakens muscles, and extra body weight exerting an abnormal load on the spine)
- Overworked muscles associated with manual activities and repetitive movements
- Sprained or pulled muscles
These types of problems can be addressed effectively using non-surgical means. In a recent blog post, we explored how you can relieve back and neck pain—such as home remedies, biologic or tissue-regeneration procedures, and various forms of therapy.
Pain is merely a symptom. There are myriad reasons for why you could be hurting. It’s time to end the mystery surrounding your back or neck pain—is it the result of a mechanical problem that requires surgery or not? Once you know, you can take the most appropriate, efficient step to eliminate pain permanently.
At Advanced Spine Institute, we’re dedicated to providing the highest quality of care in helping you get relief now. For an initial free case review, please schedule an appointment.