Why You Should Think Twice Before Getting Back Surgery

July 19, 2023
Back & Neck PainSurgery Alternatives
by Kolton Opdahl

Back surgery is often seen as a last resort for those suffering from chronic back pain or a spinal injury. It can be a major medical procedure that involves significant risks, and can require extensive recovery time. In this blog post, we’ll explore the risks associated with back surgery and highlight non-surgical alternatives for treating back pain. We’ll also discuss when back surgery may be necessary and what patients can do to prepare themselves for surgery and postoperative recovery.

Risks of Back Surgery

Back surgery comes with a variety of potential risks that should be taken into account before considering this option. These risks include complications like infection, blood clots, nerve damage, and prolonged back surgery recovery time. According to a report by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, infection is one of the most common complications associated with spine surgery. The report notes that the risk of infection is around 1% for spinal fusion surgeries and 2-4% for complex spinal surgeries.

Another potential risk associated with back surgery is nerve damage. This can occur during the surgical procedure or as a result of nerve compression from scar tissue formation. Nerve damage can lead to numbness, tingling, and even paralysis in some cases. Prolonged back surgery recovery time is also a common risk. Recovery time can vary greatly depending on the type of surgery performed, the patient’s age and overall health, and other factors.

Long-term effects of back fusion and lumbar spine surgery should also be taken into account. Back fusion involves fusing two or more vertebrae together to stabilize the spine. While this can provide relief for those with severe back pain, it can also lead to reduced mobility and an increased risk of adjacent segment disease. Lumbar spine surgery, can have similar effects in an increased risk of additional problems for the other levels in your spine.

When Back Surgery is Necessary

While non-surgical alternatives should always be considered first, there are situations where back surgery may be necessary. For example, back surgery may be necessary in cases of extremely severe spinal cord compression or spinal deformities. If the spinal cord is being compressed, invasive procedures may be necessary to prevent permanent damage. Keep in mind this is rare and there are even more significant risks the more severe your condition is.

If surgery is necessary, there are several steps that patients can take to prepare themselves for the procedure. It’s important to select a skilled surgeon with experience performing the specific type that is needed. (See our article on How to Find an Orthopedic Surgeon) Patients should also follow all preoperative guidelines provided by their surgeon, including dietary restrictions and cessation of certain medications. Smoking should be avoided, as it can increase the risk of complications during and after surgery.

Patients should also prepare themselves mentally and emotionally for the surgery. It’s important to have a support system in place and to discuss any concerns or fears with the surgical team beforehand. Patients should also have realistic expectations about the outcome of the operation and the recovery process.

Recovery from Back Surgery

Recovery from back surgery can be a lengthy process that requires patience and dedication. The length of the recovery period will depend on the type performed, the patient’s age and overall health, and other factors.

In the immediate aftermath of back surgery, patients will likely spend several days in the hospital. During this time, pain management and wound care will be a priority. Patients may be given pain medication and will need to follow strict guidelines for physical activity and mobility.

Once patients are discharged from the hospital, they will continue their recovery at home. This will involve following a strict regimen of physical therapy and gradually increasing activity levels. Patients may need to wear a back brace or use other assistive devices during this time.

It’s important to note that the recovery process can be challenging and may involve setbacks. Patients may experience pain, discomfort, and fatigue during the recovery period. However, with patience and dedication, most patients are able to return to normal activities within several months of surgery.

What are the Complications with Spinal Surgery?

Lumbar surgery is a complex procedure that comes with certain risks and complications. Some common complications that can occur after back surgery include infection, bleeding, nerve damage, and blood clots. In addition, the patient may experience pain or weakness in the back, legs, or arms, depending on the type. In some cases, the procedure may not provide the expected relief. The patient may need further treatment, including additional surgeries which carry additional risks. Furthermore, back surgery can have a significant impact on the patient’s mental health, leading to anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders. It’s crucial for patients to understand the risks associated with lumbar surgery and to discuss their concerns with their healthcare provider before deciding to proceed with the operation.

What Percentage of Back Surgeries are Successful?

The success rate of back surgeries can vary depending on the type and the individual patient’s circumstances. According to some studies, the success rate for back surgeries ranges from 60% to 90%. The success rate can be affected by factors such as the patient’s age, overall health, and the severity of the underlying condition. Additionally, the skill and experience of the surgeon can play a significant role in the success of the surgery. In general, minimally invasive procedures tend to have higher success rates compared to open surgeries.

There are several factors that can negatively impact your chances for a successful spinal procedure:

  • Smoking status
  • Obesity
  • Age
  • Blood pressure issues
  • Preexisting depression

What Percentage of Back Surgeries Fail?

The percentage of back surgeries that are unsuccessful can vary depending on the type and the individual patient’s circumstances. Studies suggest that the failure rate for back surgeries can range from 20% to 40%. When a spinal surgery fails, it can lead to prolonged pain, disability, and the need for additional surgeries or treatments. This can be emotionally and financially taxing for the patient and their family. Moreover, failed back surgeries can negatively impact the patient’s quality of life, making it difficult to perform daily activities and even preventing them from returning to work. Therefore, it’s important for individuals to explore all non-surgical options and to carefully consider the risks and benefits of surgery before proceeding.

Back Surgery Recovery Time

Recovering from spine surgery requires a considerable amount of commitment and effort that may extend for several weeks or months. Typically, patients remain under hospital observation for a few days after the appointment, followed by several weeks of rehabilitation aimed at restoring their core strength and resuming their prior state. Frequently, patients are unable to work for weeks or even months until they have recovered sufficiently. Moreover, the basic tasks of everyday life, such as sleeping, can be negatively impacted, further complicating the recovery process.

What if I Need a Second Back Surgery?

There are several reasons why a patient may require a second back surgery. Here are the main reasons:

  • There could be unusual scar tissue around the surgery site.
  • Perhaps the incision site healed incorrectly, and this could be causing other problems in the spine.
  • The surgery may have been successful, but perhaps the diagnosis was wrong and so the initial problem was still not fixed.
  • The patient simply wasn’t a good candidate for the initial surgery in the first place. Due to certain health or lifestyle concerns, the patient’s body may have suffered during the rigors of the procedure, and it may not have healed correctly.

Most of the time an additional back surgery is to correct a mistake that happened from the first operation. An additional appointment wages an increased number of risks and complications that can lead to prolonged problems and pain.

back surgery

Non-Surgical Alternatives for Back Surgery

Regenerative medicine offers a promising non-surgical alternative to traditional back surgery. This approach involves using a patient’s own cells, growth factors, or other biological agents to stimulate the body’s natural healing process and regenerate damaged tissues. Regenerative medicine techniques can be used to treat a range of spinal conditions, including herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis. Unlike back surgery, regenerative medicine is minimally invasive and typically involves little to no downtime. Moreover, regenerative medicine can help avoid the risks and potential complications that come with invasive procedures. While regenerative medicine is still a relatively new field, it shows great promise in providing safe and effective alternatives to traditional spinal fusions and other procedures. Patients interested in exploring regenerative medicine as a treatment option should consult with a qualified healthcare provider to determine the best approach for their specific needs.

In Conclusion

Back surgery can be a life-changing procedure for those suffering from chronic back pain or a spinal injury. However, it’s important to understand the potential risks associated with the procedure and to explore non-surgical alternatives before considering surgery. If it is necessary, patients should take steps to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the procedure and to follow strict guidelines for recovery. By taking a proactive approach to back pain prevention and treatment, individuals can improve their overall quality of life and reduce their risk of developing chronic back pain in the future.

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