There has always been a certain segment of the population that believes surgery to be a silver bullet to fixing whatever’s wrong with their bodies.
In some cases, this is the truth. Surgery can bring miraculous change to the lives of people who would otherwise be suffering in pain. But the truth is that surgery can’t fix everything. I’ve put together this blog about what spine surgery can and cannot fix to both demystify and clarify the limitations of surgical intervention, especially concerning the spine, in the interest of education.
I hope this brief overview will give you a clearer idea of what spine surgery can realistically achieve.
A rapid evolution
Spine surgery first came on the scene in a major way in the 1950s. At the time, knowledge of the spine’s structures was somewhat limited, compared to what it is today.
Contemporary knowledge is huge, making spine surgery more effective every day. We can now operate using minimally invasive methods, offering patients more rapid recovery times and fewer complications. Patient outcomes have drastically improved.
That said, there are some conditions which are beyond the reach of surgery and are best treated conservatively.
What we can do
A skilled spine surgeon can address structural issues in the spine, in which dysfunction is provoked that causes pain. These are mechanical anomalies which can be responded to with modern interventions like kyphoplasty and vertebroplasty (responding to fractures in the vertebrae that don’t heal, specifically).
Nerve compression is another problem spine surgery can readily address. Herniated discs, bone spurs and spinal stenosis are conditions surgery specifically targets.
Scoliosis can also be addressed (to some degree and depending on the acuity of the curvature), as well as tumors and cysts on the spine which interferes with normal function. Finally, spine surgery can effectively respond to failed back surgery, but not in every case and entirely depending on the nature of the problem.
What we can’t do
Lower back pain which isn’t related to an underlying problem can’t be fixed by surgery. Attending a skilled spine specialist to determine a potential root cause may provide a more definitive answer, but the solution to this issue is generally in conservative therapies.
While lumbar fusion can repair damage to the vertebrae occasioned by wear and tear, degenerative disc disease is an age-related, naturally occurring process. With time, discomfort decreases and again, conservative interventions can manage any residual pain.
Damage to the spinal cord can be mitigated with early intervention and halted from doing any further harm, but existing damage to the spinal cord can’t be addressed by surgery.
Likewise, damage to the spine caused by cigarette smoking can’t be repaired. You can however, quit smoking, make key changes in your diet and start a doctor-directed exercise program to help with any pain issues arising.
We hope this review of what spine surgery can and cannot fix has been helpful. If you’re experiencing back pain, we suggest you schedule a consultation to see if surgery is the right response for your condition.