If you’ve struggled with back pain for any length of time, you may be wondering if spine surgery is your only treatment option. Sometimes, surgery is the only treatment. However, there’s good news. The vast majority of back problems can be remedied with non-surgical treatments—often referred to as non-surgical or conservative therapies.
Aging, improper body mechanics, trauma and structural abnormalities can injure your spine, leading to back pain and other symptoms such as leg pain and/or numbness or even leg weakness. Chronic back pain is a condition that generally requires a team of health professionals to diagnose and treat. Before resigning yourself to surgery, consider getting opinions from several spine specialists. This investment of time and information-gathering will help you make an informed treatment decision that will best support your lifestyle and desired level of physical activity.
As with all non-emergency spinal surgeries, a trial of non-operative treatment, such as physical therapy, pain medication—preferably an anti-inflammatory, or bracing should be observed before surgery is considered. The trial period of conservative treatment varies, but six weeks to six months is the general timeframe.
Spine surgery has advanced dramatically with the technology surrounding minimally invasive surgical (MIS) techniques. Surgical materials, nerve monitoring, and computer-aided navigation have improved significantly recently. With these techniques, the risks, recovery time, and surgical complications have decreased greatly.
X-rays, computer-aided navigation techniques, and specialized tubes or retractors with special cameras or microscopes have led to major advances in the capabilities of MIS surgery. In addition to a smaller incision, MIS surgery has been shown on average to cause decreases in blood loss, postoperative pain and narcotic use, soft tissue damage, and number of days spent in the hospital. On average, patients have a faster recovery, and return to normal activity and work faster.
When spine surgery is recommended it is important for patients to discuss minimally invasive options with their surgeon. Minimally invasive surgery, or 'MIS,' is not the right option for all patients. It is important to understand why you may not be a candidate for MIS. Some surgeons have not been trained using these techniques, and do not offer them even though their patients may benefit. Before undergoing a spinal surgery, you should have a good understanding of the procedure itself and what to expect during the recovery process. Since pain and recovery are personal and individualized for each patient, no surgeon can guarantee a particular recovery course. However for many patients, an MIS option may result in a smoother and more successful outcome.