The Truth About Spine Surgery: 5 Myths Debunked

Spine Surgery

Pain relievers, exercises, massages, meditation -- you've tried it all. Yet that pain in your back just will not go away.

Now, you're starting to wonder: Is spine surgery the answer?

The decision to have spine surgery can be difficult, and the myths floating around about surgery don't make the decision much easier.

Before saying yes or no, learn the truth behind these 5 myths about spine surgery. And be sure to discuss any questions and concerns with your physician. They can help you determine if spine surgery is the right way to treat your back pain.

Myth #1: All spine surgeries are major surgeries.

Yes, the spine is a large part of the body, but that doesn't mean every spinal surgery has to be a major procedure.

Several spinal surgeries are minimally invasive -- meaning the surgeon makes a few small cuts, rather than large incisions. In general, these procedures are faster and require less time for recovery than major surgeries. They also don't cause as much scarring and have a lower risk of infection or post-surgical pain.

If you have one of these conditions, you may be able to have minimally invasive spine surgery:

  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
  • Spinal deformities, such as scoliosis
  • Spinal infections
  • Spinal instability
  • Herniated discs
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Vertebral compression fractures
  • Spinal tumors

"Many of my patients have degenerative spine disease, arthritis, discs that are degenerated, or pinched nerves, and there are procedures designed to relieve pain and pressure on those structures. Spine surgery has really advanced over time and there are several different ways we can approach a patient with these conditions," said Mark Tantorski, DO, spine surgeon at Chester County Hospital.

If you do need major surgery, there are several different types.

4 Common Spine Surgeries

Myth #2: A spine specialist will always recommend surgery.

Surgery is not for everyone -- and your physician knows that. When you see a spine specialist, surgery is one option they may consider. However, they might have ideas for curing back pain or instability without surgery -- such as physical therapy or acupuncture.

"With a lot of spine conditions, there are multiple ways to take care of the issue but the focus should be on achieving a solution in the least invasive way, whether that's through nonsurgical or surgical care," said Michael Murray, MD, spine surgeon at Chester County Hospital.

"It is important patients are being delivered individualized and informative care in a shared fashion so they can make a decision that's right for them."

Myth #3: Recovery from spine surgery is unbearably painful.

It's normal to feel pain after surgery, especially if you have just had a major procedure. In general, pain is usually the worst during the first one to three days after the surgery. After that, it should begin to subside. You may feel some mild to moderate pain for up to six weeks after the surgery, but you should not feel severe pain.

Very severe pain -- especially after the first few days following surgery -- is not a typical part of recovery. Neither is pain along with fevers, chills, numbness, tingling sensations, or loss of bladder or bowel control. If you have these symptoms, or severe pain that will not go away, get medical attention immediately.

Myth #4: Recovery from spine surgery always takes forever.

It's true that some back surgeries do take quite some time to heal. However, recovery time depends on many factors, such as your age, the part of your back being operated on, the specific procedure being performed, or your overall health.

For example, recovery from a discectomy or foraminotomy might take only a couple of weeks. On the other hand, if you have a laminectomy or fusion surgery, it can take at least three or four months after surgery for the bones to heal. In some cases, it may take up to a year for them to fully heal.

Talk to your surgeon ahead of time about what to expect in terms of recovery time and discuss if you will be able to work or exercise during that time.

Myth #5: You'll get addicted to painkillers after surgery.

Opioids are very strong pain medications that are often prescribed for post-surgical pain, and they are known to be addictive. However, if your physician prescribes opioids, don't panic. They will work with you carefully to make sure you're taking them safely and correctly.

Instead of opioids, your physician may prescribe nerve pain-reducing medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, or medications that release chemicals to help reduce pain.

And remember -- when you're recovering from spine surgery, you won't be solely relying on medication. Physicians usually prescribe non-medicinal forms of recovery, such as physical therapy or rehab, as well.

Bonus Fact: Spine surgery can be a game changer. The thought of having surgery may be a scary one, but a successful procedure can make your back feel brand new. If you're interested in surgery, don't hesitate to discuss it with your physician.

Do you have questions about spine surgery? Chester County Hospital has got your back. Call 610-738-2300 for more information or request an appointment online.

About this Blog

Chester County Hospital's Health e-Living Blog offers a regular serving of useful health and lifestyle information for the residents of Chester County, PA and the surrounding region.

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