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Back surgery is generally an elective surgery. This is not the case if there is an emergency or rare condition such as a tumour, infection, cauda equina syndrome, or trauma which causes damage to the spinal cord. But these situations are very rare. Most of the time, it is up to you and your doctor to decide whether or not back surgery is the right choice for you.
The majority of back surgery is done to reduce pressure on a nerve or stabilize a segment of the spine. Diagnostic tests will conclude if a particular root is at fault. The causes of pinched nerves vary from vertebral fractures, bulging discs, or bone spurs, to name a few. Different reasons, different surgical choices.
The following are among the most common back surgeries. The surgeons who conduct them are either neurosurgeons (specializing in the nervous system) or orthopedic surgeons (those who specialize in bones).
Back Surgery Is No Guarantee
Statistics have shown that many back surgeries do successfully reduce or eliminate pain as intended. However, failure rates range from 10 to 40 percent. In medical profession, it’s referred to as failed back-surgery syndrome (FBSS). In these cases, patients may undergo yet another operation or try a different tactic. Back surgeries can be unsuccessful for many reasons. Problems such as scar tissue, instability issues caused by some decompressions, or unrealistic expectations of what the surgery could fix. The largest contributor to FBSS is persistent pain.
Failed back-surgery syndrome (FBSS) is the phrase used when a patient’s pain persists in patients even after the surgery. According to research from the National Institutes of Health, the incidence of failed back-surgery syndrome is roughly 40 percent.
With an optional procedure, you’ve got the time to do the research. Study your options, realistically appreciate the potential outcomes, and consider different surgeons very carefully. A qualified surgeon will usually do a minimum of 100 cases per year. They will also be able to answer all your questions openly and thoroughly and shed light on what to expect after surgery.
Further to this, understand that good surgeons are not unsettled if you want to get a second opinion. Actually, many recommend it. Obviously, all surgical procedures carry some risk. Find out as much as you can about the risks and benefits. And be wary of anyone who claims they will relieve all of your pain.
31 pairs of nerve roots leave the spinal cord through spaces between the vertebrae (you can find more information here). When those spaces are reduced, nerves can be compressed, which results in pain. Conditions which can compress nerves include:
- Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal canal
- Degenerative disc disease: Loss of fluid in the intervertebral discs
- Herniated disc: The bulging or rupturing of an intervertebral disc
- Bone spurs: Additional growth on vertebra often due to osteoarthritis
- Spondylosis: Spinal osteoarthritis causing joint dysfunction
As spinal root nerves diverge, they become like a fine web of nerves dispersed throughout the body. This is why you may feel what is known as referred pain (pain felt in one part of the body when the source is actually located elsewhere). For instance, if a nerve root leaving the lower back is compressed, you may feel pain or tingling down your leg. Sometimes it might be numbness or weakness, not pain. Freeing the compressed nerve typically gets rid of pain and normal sensation returns.