10 Questions for your Spine Surgeon before surgery

by Boston Gregg

spine surgeonFinding out you need surgery can be overwhelming. Finding out you need spinal surgery can be that much worse. Not only will you need to understand the details of your medical condition and all of the available treatment options, but also you need to be comfortable with your surgeon.

Why? Simple. It’s your back. Your life. You are in control. It’s easy to feel like an outsider in a hospital or a surgery center, but remember it’s your spine that’s being operated on. Your doctor works for you. You know your body and your doctor knows the human body. Advocate for yourself and educate yourself. You need to be confident that this is your best option for you and your back.

Here are 10 questions to ask your spine surgeon before you have spine surgery:

#1 Why do I need surgery?

Your physician should be able to answer this question with ease. Surgery may be necessary because conservative treatments haven’t reduced your pain. Typical back problems do respond to conservative treatments such as anti-inflammatory medicines, gentle massage, heat and physical therapy.

Understand what is causing your pain. Is it a disc problem? or bone related issue? Disc problems like a herniated or bulging disc can cause nerve compression leading to pain, but somtimes bulging discs are present for a long time and cause no pain.

Your physician may tell you that surgery is not the only option, but it may be the effective option for reducing pain.

#2 Why is this surgery being recommended?

Spine surgery can be recommended for a number of different reasons from your physician’s diagnostic findings, your symptoms, or even the state of your condition/injury.

Common types of spinal surgery:

  • Discectomy: This operation involves removing the bulging or herniated part of a disc to relieve inflammation, irriatation, and reduce the pressure it was causing a nerve.
  • Laminectomy: This operation involves removing the bone that lies over the spinal canal. This relieves pressure in a similar way to the discectomy procedure by making more room.
  • Fusion: This operation involves permanently joining two or more vertebrae together making the spine more stable. This procedure can also be used sometimes to keep your vertebrae from grinding on each other after a disc has been worn out or damaged.

3. What are the benefits and risks of this surgery? Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

No two spine surgeries are the exact same, but your doctor should explain the benefits and risks related to your spine surgery. The benefits of your surgery should outweigh the risks of complications such as infection, excessive bleeding, and reaction to anesthesia or injury. Understand ALL of the possible complications related to the recommended surgery before agreeing to it with your doctor. Also, ask your doctor what type of side effects to expect during recovery such as swelling and soreness.

4. What is the statistical success rate for this type of surgery? What has been your experience with it? How often do you perform this procedure?

Understanding the success rate of a surgery is equally as important to acquiring all of the information before determining if surgery is right for you. There are many different types of spine surgery ranging from a quick, minimally invasive procedures to complicated spinal fusion, which can take several hours to complete.

Your physican’s experience is important. The more times they’ve

5. Is your practice devoted to spine surgery? Are you fellowship trained?

In most cases, your surgeon practice will be devoted to spine surgery. In order to become a spine surgeon one must complete: 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and then a 5 year residency. After completing his residency, he completes a year long fellowship specializing in spinal surgery.

6. If I want to get a second opinion, who would you recommend?

If you would like a second opinion prior to scheduling surgery, your surgeon may be able to provide you with a recommendation. The second opinion should come from a spine surgeon of a different practice. Spine surgeons often have differences in opinion in determining if surgery is necessary.

7. Where will I have surgery?

Prior to surgery, your physician will inform you where your surgery will take place. Whether or not your surgery is outpatient depends on the severity of your condition. Minimally invasive techniques during surgery, aid in reducing your risk of infection or complication.

Your surgery can either be conducted at a private practice or a teaching hospital. Residents in teaching hospitals are supervised by an attending physician. The care received at a teaching hospital is no less than that of any other hospital.

8. Will anyone be assisting you with my surgery?

This answer will vary, depending on your surgeon’s preference, but in most cases, your doctor will have a scrub team made up of a physician’s assistant(PA), students, or nurses. Your doctor will only be assisted in the actual surgery by the PA or another surgeon. Your PA might close or suture the incision following your surgery’s completion. A second surgeon may assist in the more complicated surgeries. You should always know who will be in the room during surgery and who will be assisting your doctor with the surgery.

9. What if I refuse the procedure? Are there non-surgical options?

Your doctor will tell you the types of outcome refusing spine surgery can lead to. There are some conservative, non-surgery options,but if your doctor has recommended surgery than more than likely all your non-surgical options may not provide desired results.

Sometimes non-surgical options are still available, but if your doctor believes surgery is the greatest chance at reducing your pain than it’s most likely the most suitable choice.

10. What should I expect during recovery?

Following surgery, you may go home the same as your surgery depending on whether it’s minimally invasive or more complex. Your surgeon might recommend you stay overnight at the hospital, but experiences vary.

Think proactively about the steps you need to take to make your home recovery-ready. Stairs should be avoided unless your surgeon tells you otherwise. This means you might have to relocate your bed to the first floor before surgery. Your doctor might prescribe antibiotics and painkillers after surgery. Find a family member, friend, or someone else dependable to pick up your prescriptions for you.

Your doctor will likely give you advice on how to treat/clean your incision to avoid infection. Your doctor may even recommend physical therapy and might have you wear a back brace for a few weeks.

Pain can be expected in the first few days following your procedure, but only a few weeks after surgery most patients report less pain.

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