The Limitations of Spinal Surgery

Nowadays, medical technology has come so far that many types of degenerative conditions can be corrected through surgery. While surgery may or may not solve the problem entirely, many people tend to have good treatment outcomes that improve their symptoms. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case and some individuals do not experience the amount of relief they were hoping for after surgery. 

The fact that spinal surgery is not always successful for everyone shows that there are still things that spinal medicine needs to learn. It also shows that there are limitations to what spinal surgery can and cannot fix. As a patient considering spinal surgery, it is important to be aware of what these limitations are during your decision making process: 

There is no cure for back pain

For starters, it is important to realize that back pain is a symptom, not a condition. Because it is only a symptom, back pain cannot be cured. Instead you will need to find an experienced spinal surgeon who can accurately diagnose the cause of your back pain. Once an accurate diagnosis has been obtained, your specialist can help you decide what types of treatments are best suited to manage or treat the condition responsible for causing your back pain. 

Spine surgery addresses one of two things

As complicated as spinal surgery may seem, spinal surgeries can only perform two goals. Either spinal surgery works to decompress a pinched nerve or it works to stabilize a painful joint. In cases where a nerve or joint are the source of pain, then this generally resolves the problem, assuming that the right nerve or joint receives treatment. 

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS) may occur

spinal surgeon holding model of the spine

It is also important to note that, according to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, around 20-40% of back surgeries fail. However, failed back surgery is not usually due to the surgeon, but it is due to the point discussed above. Oftentimes FBSS is the result of not addressing the exact nerve and/or joint causing the pain. To decrease the risk of FBSS, many spinal surgeons exhaust diagnostic and non-surgical treatments to ensure they have identified the source of the pain before recommending surgery. 

Spinal surgery is not magic

When considering or undergoing spinal surgery, it is also important to realize that surgery cannot “magically” undo all the effects of aging and lifestyle. While it is true that spinal surgery can help decrease back pain caused by degenerative conditions, it cannot give you back the spine you had when you were 21.

There are risks involved

Most people realize that with any type of surgery, there are risks involved. Spinal surgery is no exception to this rule. Because of this, most spinal specialists will only recommend spinal surgery after exhausting more conservative non-surgical treatment options. In some cases, your spinal specialist may also advise against surgery if there is a risk of serious complications. With that being said, spinal surgeons only recommend spinal surgery to patients when they believe that the benefits from surgery outweigh the risks.  

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