Spine surgery and treatment


Overview of spine surgery and treatment

Have you struggled with neck or back pain for some time? If physical therapy, medication, or noninvasive therapies haven’t been successful, spine surgery may help you. In some cases, surgery is the only way to treat problems affecting the spine.

Spine surgeons at Dignity Health specialize in the medical and surgical care of neck and back conditions, as well as spine tumors and injuries. Our surgeons also perform open and minimally invasive spine surgery. Find a Doctor near you.

Why it’s necessary

For some back, spine, and neck injuries, like spinal fractures or herniated discs, spine surgery is the only treatment option to repair damage and prevent injury.

Spine surgery is also sometimes used as a treatment for chronic back pain that has persisted for several months and not responded to other types of treatment like pain medication, physical therapy, or bracing.

Spine surgery in these cases is typically only recommended after other options have been exhausted.

Before recommending surgery, your doctor will likely assess your condition and symptoms using one or more of the following tools:

  • Patient history: Your doctor will probably want to know how long you have experienced back pain, whether an injury like a fall preceded your symptoms, where the pain is located, and how much it has been limiting your daily activities.
  • Physical exam: Next, your doctor will visually look at and feel your spine for any signs of injury, such as swelling or bruising.
  • Imaging tests: If your medical history suggests a trauma-related injury such as a broken bone (fracture), your doctor will likely use x-ray scans to look at your bones and assess your condition. Other standard scans include MRIs, PET, and CT, which can also provide a picture of your soft tissues and nerves.

Common conditions treated

At Dignity Health, our surgeons deliver compassionate care for conditions of the neck and back, including:

  • Back pain caused by sprains, strains, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, and herniated disc
  • Congenital disabilities, including spina bifida
  • Spinal conditions, including scoliosis (side-to-side curve) and kyphosis (forward curve)
  • Epilepsy and movement disorders, including tremor, dystonia, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis
  • Tumors, cysts, and cancer of the spinal cord and brain

Types

Orthopedic surgeons at Dignity Health offer the following types of spine surgery:

  • Laminectomy: a procedure to remove the back of the vertebra, relieving pressure on the spinal cord
  • Laminotomy: a procedure to remove only a portion of the back of the vertebra
  • Discectomy: a procedure to remove a herniated disc to relieve pressure on the spinal nerves
  • Spinal fusion/lumbar fusion: a procedure to connect two or more vertebrae to limit movement and reduce pain  
  • Lumbar surgery: surgery on the lower (lumbar) spine
  • Disc replacement

Risks

As with any procedure, back surgery to correct a spine issue comes with risks.

While complications from spine surgery aren’t common, your doctor will discuss possible side effects during and after surgery. Depending on your procedure, potential risks include:

  • Reaction to anesthesia
  • Blood clots or strokes
  • Heart attack
  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Nerve damage
  • Not fixing your back pain

Spine surgery is usually done under general anesthesia, meaning you will be asleep for the duration of the procedure. Depending on your age and overall health, you may be a higher or lower risk candidate for general anesthesia. Your doctor will let you know whether you are healthy enough to undergo surgery.

Some types of spine surgery can now be accomplished using minimally invasive surgical techniques. Minimally invasive surgery uses tiny incisions (cuts), through which a small scope is inserted so your surgeon can complete the operation without making a large incision.

These types of procedures typically have shorter recovery times and lower risk of side effects. Speak with your doctor about whether you may be a candidate for this approach.

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