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The Misconceptions and Fears about Spine Surgery

The word “surgery” often causes anxiety and fear for patients.  Many times, they specifically ask what treatment options are available aside from surgery because they want to avoid having an operation all together, due to common misconceptions.

These misconceptions are about surgery, especially spinal surgery, and I’ve heard them all. More often than not, they get in the way of the best treatment that is available for the patient .The truth is, depending on what type of injury you have and the situation you are in, surgery may end up being your best and safest option for a full recovery. Although surgery is not always the answer, it is also not always the option of last resort.  A few common misconceptions that I often hear at my practice are:

  • I will never be able to be active again!

Actually, the opposite is often true.  Without spinal surgery, many patients continue to suffer from their symptoms, making any type of physical activity painful. After the problem is corrected, patients can very often get back to normal activities, including sports. Also,  I usually recommend that my patients begin taking walks quickly after surgery in order to regain mobility, which also helps with the healing process.

  • Nothing has alleviated my pain yet so surgery will not cure me either. 

This misconception often relates to the patient who has tried numerous solutions to get rid of the pain and they are still suffering. They are overwhelmed, disappointed and let down. What they don’t realize is surgery not only usually helps alleviatethe pain, but that they likely needed it from the start.

  •  The recovery will take forever!

Depending on the preexisting condition of the spine and what type of spinal surgery is performed, recovery times will vary. Recovery after micro-discectomy surgery or routine anterior cervical spine surgery is very quick (days to a couple of weeks)  while patients who have undergone spinal fusion surgery may take longer. Spine fusions take 3 months to fully heal, but patients can regain normal walking ability within 2-4 weeks depending on the type of fusion. Recovery cannot be rushed and it is important to allow time for the spine to heal properly, to prevent problems in the future.

Although some may think my opinion is biased because I am a spinal surgeon, my main goal is to rid my patients of pain, not to perform surgery on them. I look at all of the options available and customize treatment to the specific patient’s case. When non-surgical options can heal a patient, we always choose that route. However, some problems cannot be fixed without surgery.  It is my job to help my patients make those choices, and to make sure they go on to lead healthy, active lives.

Do you still have feelings of anxiety about spinal surgery?  It’s important to be honest with your surgeon about your hesitations around surgery.  For a detailed list of questions to ask your doctor before spinal surgery, please visit The Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons at http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00562.