Receiving a referral or recommendation for spinal surgery can be a difficult time and often comes with much uncertainty about the procedure and any potential side effects.
That’s for good reason. Spinal surgery can be a very serious and invasive procedure, and it’s important that you’re aware of all your options well before committing to changing the anatomy of your spine permanently.
If you’ve been referred for spinal surgery to treat lower back pain, it’s important to know there are other treatments which can be just as effective in treating your condition.
A 2010 study called “Manipulation or micro-discectomy for sciatica? -A prospective randomised clinical study” found that 60% of people with herniated discs who received manual therapy treatment had the same results as those who received surgical intervention.
Likewise, there’s times when back surgery is going to be the best – or only – option. Let’s look at some of the ins and outs of spinal surgery and explore some of the other options available.
What are the types of spinal surgery?
The different types of spinal surgeries include:
- Discectomy: This involves a full or partial removal of the damaged portion of a herniated disk.
- Laminectomy: The removal of the bone which overlies the spinal canal, for relieving nerve pressure caused by spinal stenosis.
- Spinal fusion: The fusion of two or more bones in the spine (vertebrae) to add stability to spinal fractures or eliminate painful motion between the vertebrae.
- Artificial disks replacement: Where bones are replaced with an artificial disk to reduce painful movement between two bones or to replace degenerated disks.
How necessary is spinal fusion surgery?
Spinal fusion surgery increased by 167 per cent between 1997 and 2006 in Australia. This is despite the lack of studies to support the surgery for most back-related conditions, including spinal stenosis.
Spinal surgery can be invasive, expensive, and may lead to further complications. Some research suggests that spinal surgery often fails to deliver the desired results, and one in five patients who have spinal fusion procedures need to undergo revision surgery within ten years of their initial surgery.
Studies have also found that patients who have had spinal fusion surgery can end up unable to return to their regular jobs and need physiotherapy and opioid medication for up to two years after their surgery.
Randomised trials have found that spinal surgery offers little advantage over a well-structured physiotherapy-based rehabilitation program
What should I ask before having spinal surgery?
There are a number of questions you should ask yourself before having spinal surgery. They include:
- Do I really need this procedure?
- What are the risks?
- Are there simpler, safer options?
- What happens if I don’t do anything?
- What are the costs?
What alternative options are there to spinal surgery?
If you’ve been recommended spinal surgery to treat chronic back pain, there are a range of treatments available. It’s important to first consider whether one of these might be a better option for you.
It sounds simple – but simply moving your back more, in the correct way, can help you reduce chronic back pain. It’s one of the first treatments you should try under the guidance of your physician and physical therapist. Low intensity exercises like swimming and walking are generally the best options. However, the same set of exercises doesn’t work for everyone, so it’s important to get expert advice from a spinal specialist before you begin.
There are a range of nonsurgical treatments that are proven to be effective in treating chronic back pain, including acupuncture, electrical nerve stimulation and laser therapy. Make sure you talk to your spine specialist before starting any new treatments to confirm they’re recommended for you. Every spine is different, so it’s important to get an expert assessment.
Changing your diet:
Did you know your diet may actually be making your back pain worse? Some diets are highly inflammatory, including those containing lots of processed foods, refined sugar and trans fats. If you’re carrying too much weight, it’s also likely to be negatively impacting on your spine. Changing your diet may be one of the simplest ways to reduce your back pain and any excess body weight.
There’s plenty of medications, ranging from over-the-counter to prescription, designed to help reduce your back pain. While they will work in the short-term and can be a useful way to reduce pain, it’s important to remember they’re not intended to be a long-term solution. If you want lasting relief from your back pain, consult with a spinal specialist to talk through other non-surgical options.
If you’re considering spinal surgery, it’s worth making time to speak with a spinal specialist or physiotherapist about the options available to you.
It always pays to get a second opinion before committing to a surgery that will change the anatomy of your spine forever. Book into The Brisbane Spine Clinic for a consultation to talk through your needs. We have physiotherapists and spinal specialists at both our Eight Mile Plains and North Lakes clinics who’d be only too happy to talk through your needs.