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Back surgery and treatment

Overview of back surgery and treatment

If you’re experiencing back pain or related symptoms, back surgery (also called spine surgery) may reduce your discomfort and allow you to return to normal activities without pain.

Our orthopedic specialists at Dignity Health provide exceptional treatment and compassionate care for back injuries, including minimally invasive back surgery.

To learn more about treatment options for the back, find a specialist near you.

Why it's necessary

Back surgery is typically only considered when more conservative treatment options haven’t worked. Before recommending surgery for back pain, your doctor will likely recommend treatments such as medication, physical therapy to relearn movement and strengthen your muscles, or braces.

If you continue to have discomfort, your doctor will assess your condition with a physical exam. The exam will include visual analysis of your spine and range of motion. Your doctor will also use this time to discuss what you’re experiencing and what movements make it better or worse.

Imaging scans to assess back pain before surgery include:

  • Xrays
  • MRIs
  • Ultrasounds
  • PET scans
  • CT scans

Common conditions treated with back surgery

General back pain usually gets better with physical therapy, medication, and exercise. If your back pain continues to persist after a few months, causing serious discomfort or limited mobility, back surgery may be beneficial.

In addition to chronic pain that doesn’t respond to more conservative treatments, sometimes back injuries require surgery. For example, your doctor may recommend spinal surgery if you have:

  • Bone spurs or overgrowth caused by osteoarthritis
  • Problems with a disc in your back, including bulging, herniated, ruptured,
    or slipped spinal discs
  • Tumors in your spine

At Dignity Health, our skilled orthopedic surgeons perform minimally invasive back surgery to help relieve pain and improve movement and stability in your back with less pain and shorter recovery time.


Our orthopedic surgeons perform four types of back surgery:

  • Disc replacement. During a disc replacement, an artificial disc will be implanted between two of your vertebral bones to help cushion the spine and prevent pain.
  • Spinal fusion. This procedure permanently connects two vertebrae in the spine to limit movement and rubbing, thereby reducing or eliminating pain due to degeneration or injuries.
  • Herniated disc surgery (discectomy). Your surgeon removes the herniated section of an intervertebral disc to relieve pressure on the spinal cord.
  • Laminectomy. During a laminectomy, bone is removed from a piece of your vertebrae called the laminae in order to enlarge the spinal canal, which can relieve pressure on nerves leaving the spine.


Side effects or complications from back surgery are rare, but as with any surgery, there are risks:

  • Allergic reaction to anesthesia or medications
  • Bleeding
  • Worsened or persistent back pain
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Herniated disk
  • Nerve damage

Depending on the type of approach and type of surgery, back surgery can often be conducted using a minimally invasive technique.

In “open” surgery, the spine and back muscles are exposed and made accessible to your surgeon using a large incision. Minimally invasive surgery, on the other hand, uses one or more tiny incisions, through which a lighted camera and surgical instruments are inserted. Not everyone is a candidate for this type of procedure, but it can reduce recovery time.

Regardless of the type of surgery, your doctor and care team will go over the procedure and any possible risks, as well as how to minimize them. You should also ask your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about the operation.


Before your surgery, your doctor will discuss the treatment plan in detail, including what to expect before, during, and afterward. Make sure to ask any questions you have, including whether you might be a candidate for a minimally invasive approach.

At Dignity Health, our surgeons perform minimally invasive back surgery as well as open surgery. In most instances, surgery will take anywhere from one to three hours (depending on your specific procedure). You’ll be given general anesthesia so that you don’t feel any pain.

If you smoke, you will likely be asked to quit at least two weeks before the procedure to reduce the risk of complications. You may also need to stop taking some other medications that have blood-thinning effects, such as aspirin, before surgery.

You will need to make some plans before surgery to ensure you recover smoothly. You will need to have someone drive you home after the operation (you will not be able to drive while recovering from general anesthesia or while on prescription pain medications). You will also need to make sure you have your home prepared so you will not need to bend over to prepare food or get dressed in the days following your surgery.

Your doctor will provide more specific instruction regarding keeping the surgical site clean and protected while you recover.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.