Surgery FAQs

Click on the topics below for frequently asked questions regarding spinal surgery.

What can I do to help the healing process?

It is important to remember that inactivity and bed rest are not recommended; staying active is critical. Maintain a moderate amount of movement.

  • Stay active – walking is great
  • Avoid bed rest – moving with a little pain is better than lying in bed
  • Change position frequently

If I'm evaluated by a surgeon, does that mean I'm going to have surgery?

No, the surgeon will see you in consultation to discuss options that may include surgery.

If I’m hurting, why not do surgery immediately?

We do sometimes take patients to the operating room on an acute basis. In general, for the average patient, most spinal disorders, back pain, or herniated discs will get better with time and non-operative management. We try and provide non-operative means to treat our patients to prevent them from undergoing unnecessary surgery.

Why have spinal injections rather than surgery?

Patients who have chronic low back pain who are unable to alleviate pain through the use of medication or physical therapy may be candidates for lumbar fusion. This type of surgery permanently fuses, or joins, two or more spinal vertebrae together to restrict movement using bone grafts or metal rods or plates.

Lumbar fusion is most commonly utilized for individuals who have had injuries to the bones in the spine or whose spine has become weakened over time. If you feel that lumbar fusion may be right for you, ask your surgeon for additional information.

When is surgery necessary for patients with spine problems?

Surgical treatments are recommended only after conservative treatments have proven to be ineffective.

If I have a fusion, does that mean I will never be able to bend?

Ninety-five percent of all the bending, in terms of being able to touch your hands to the ground or your toes, involves your hip joints, not your spine. Thus, patients undergoing a one or two-level fusion typically have no loss of ability to touch their toes. If more than two levels of the spine are fused, there is some permanent loss of motion, but, again, more than 95% of all the flexion occurs at the hip joints, not the spine. Stretching the muscles about the pelvis and hips cannot be over emphasized.

How painful is spine surgery? Is it safe?

Most spine surgery does result in some post-operative pain that is controlled with pain medication. Most patients are weaned off their pain medications within 2-weeks of surgery.

All surgery has inherent risks. Spinal surgery has its own set of risks which may include infection, pain at the incision site, lack of fusion, as well as neurologic complications. However, with a well-trained surgeon, the incidence of complications differs very little than from other surgical conditions. It is important to discuss with your doctor what he feels the overall chances of a particular complication are in your given situation.

Will I have to have physical therapy after surgery? If so, for how long?

The use of physical therapy following surgery is certainly individualized to the patient and surgeon. In general, patients should avoid extensive lifting, twisting, bending and stooping for 4-6 weeks following any spine surgery.

How does smoking affect surgical outcomes and how quickly I heal after my surgery?

Smoking decreases the blood supply to the bones and muscles. So, for example if a patient undergoes a spinal fusion, which requires blood flow to support the regeneration of the bone, the fusion may not heal effectively. Smoking may also increase the degeneration of vertebral discs.

Is spine surgery successful?

Spine surgery is very successful if done for the right reasons. You should try all conservative measures available before considering surgery. This is, of course, unless there is severe compromise or pressure on the nerves or spinal cord. There are many types of spine surgery, depending on the condition being treated.