Back pain is one of the primary reasons why people consult their doctor or surgeon, and consider pursuing spine surgery. While spinal surgery is uncommonly pursued to resolve pain, as the source must be identified, it is a surgical procedure used to treat a range of spine conditions. Before surgery is considered, your doctor will likely choose a more conservative treatment, such as physical therapy or anti-inflammatory medications.
In the instances where spinal surgery is recommended, there are several types of surgery to treat various conditions.
Types of Spinal Surgery
A surgeon will recommend and discuss what type of spinal surgery would best suit your particular back condition. The following is a list of the spinal procedures a surgeon may suggest:
- Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty: This surgery is used to repair compression fractures of the vertebrae, as are caused by osteoporosis. They both use a glue-like bone cement that is injected and both harden as well as strengthen the bone.
- Spinal Decompression: When spinal stenosis causes a narrowing of the spinal canal, that can lead to pain, numbness, and weakness in the spine. The surgeon will remove the bony walls of the vertebrae and any bone spurs to open up the spinal column and remove the pressure.
- Discectomy: This surgery is used to remove a herniated disk and is often performed alongside a laminectomy.
- Foraminotomy: In this procedure, the surgeon enlarges the bony hole where the nerve root leaves the spinal canal to help prevent bulging disks or joints that have thickened from pressing on the nerve.
- Plasma Disk Decompression: This procedure is used to treat low back pain that is usually associated with a mildly herniated disk. A surgeon inserts a needle into the disk where a plasma laser can be inserted into it in order to heat the tip. This will vaporize the tissue in the disk, which reduces the size and relieves nerve pressure.
- Spinal Fusion: For this surgery, the surgeon will remove the spinal disk between two or more vertebrae before fusing adjacent vertebras using bone grafts and metal devices, which are secured by screws.
- Artificial Disk Replacement: An alternative to spinal fusion, it is a procedure for severely damaged disks. The surgery involves removing the affected disk and replacing it with a synthetic one.
When Should Back Surgery Be Considered?
There are several conditions that lead to someone being a candidate for spine surgery, such as:
- Spinal stenosis: a narrowing of the spinal column that results in pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
- Degenerative disk diseases
- Damage to spinal disks from age
- Spondylolisthesis, where one or more bones in the spine slip out of place
- Herniated or ruptured disks
- Vertebral fractures, either from osteoporosis or injury
Beyond these conditions, a doctor will use minimally invasive surgeries or treat the pain if the source cannot be identified. This is due to spine surgery being an intense procedure with a long recovery period.
Pain Management Following Surgery
Post-operative pain is common with any type of spine surgery and there are many options to consider following the spinal procedure. Each of these options should be discussed with a pain management specialist who is qualified to help you understand the pros and cons of each or a combination of pain treatments.