Pros and Cons of Back Surgery

Pros and Cons of Back Surgery

As with almost all medical procedures, there are potential benefits as well as possible disadvantages to undergoing spinal surgery.  Some of these derive from the specific type of surgery (for example, anterior lumbar interbody fusion or microdiscectomy), while others carry over to many types of spinal procedures and surgeries in general. For some patients, back surgery provides pain relief and a better quality of life, and for others, the pain continues or, in the worst case scenario, may even increase after the surgery.  As always, it is important to talk to your physician about any concerns you might have as you think about possibly undergoing back surgery.  Becoming a well-educated patient is one of the most important things that you can do to improve your overall health and prepare for your discussions with your physician.  

Benefits of Back Surgery

One of the most important and obvious benefits of back surgery is the reduction or elimination of chronic pain. The lack of pain can improve patients’ attitudes and help them to enjoy their everyday lives more.  For some back surgery recipients, nerves that affect the legs, bladder, and intestines are freed from pressure, which can greatly improve the patient’s overall physical and psychological wellness.  After undergoing back surgery, a patient can hope to

  • Return to work and increase productivity
  • Eliminate a dependence on pain medicines
  • Increase activity levels and improve physical fitness levels 

Some back operations, like lumbar dynamic stabilization, are less invasive than traditional open-spine surgeries and can provide additional benefits. Those patients who undergo lumbar dynamic stabilization or other minimally invasive surgeries for spinal fusions, scoliosis corrections, or herniated discs, may experience fewer complications, a shorter hospital stay, and less time spent in the operating room under anesthesia.  In the case of lumbar dynamic stabilization, the process is reversible and less hardware, such as pins and rods, is inserted into the spine during the surgery. Fewer pins and rods allow for greater spinal flexibility than would normally be associated with spinal fusion surgery.   

Drawbacks of Back Surgery

With all surgeries, however, come risks.  At the very least, surgery generally costs more than non-invasive, conservative treatments like physical therapy, chiropractic treatment, yoga, stretching, and even pain medicine.  The drawbacks of back surgery range from those associated with most surgeries to those specifically connected to back surgery or a particular type of back surgery like spinal fusion, discectomy, and laminectomy.  After undergoing back surgery, patients might experience

  • A limit to daily activities for a period of time post-surgery
  • Recurring pain because the cause of the problem is not fully addressed
  • Results of the surgery that are not permanent and the surgery may need to be repeated
  • Less flexibility in the spinal column (this is a common concern with spinal fusion surgeries)
  • Possible nerve damage or paralysis that affects the legs, bladder, digestive system, and/or sexual functions
  • Negative reaction to anesthesia or other pharmaceuticals
  • Bleeding during or after the surgery
  • Infection at the incision site
  • Blood clots in the legs or lungs
  • Heart attack or stroke

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