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Getting back surgery can be scary and it can have a lot of big question marks. Are you doing the right thing? Will it make you better in the long run? How long will recovery be? All of these are questions that you need to discuss with your back surgeon prior to planning any surgery. 

Back surgery isn’t always needed–in fact, we find that it’s needed in fewer than 10% of our patients–but there are times when it can be very beneficial. So how do you know when you’re the one who is getting the surgery if it’s right for you? 

Here are some of the most common questions that get asked of back surgeons. When you meet with us and we discuss surgery, we want to make sure that all of your concerns are addressed, so don’t be afraid to ask us any of these! Your comfort and peace of mind, and ultimately your return to wellness, are our top priorities.

Questions Regarding the Surgery Itself:

  1. What type of surgery are you recommending and why? There are many different approaches to back surgeries, and they all have different risks and rewards. Understanding exactly what type of surgery is going to be performed, and why it is better than any other surgery that is available, is important for you to know. Your long term health is on the line.
  1. What pain is going to be addressed? How will it be resolved? Presumably you’re going to see the surgeon because you’re suffering from neck and back pain. And back pain is a tricky thing: you might feel it in one place, but it may be emanating from a different source. You could be feeling leg and arm pain together which could mean that nerves are affected – in this case a consultation is best to discuss treatment plans. Understanding exactly what pain is going to be solved, and how the doctor has determined that their surgery plan will tackle that specific pain source, is crucial.
  1. Please explain the procedure in detail. How much detail depends on the patient. Some just want the pain gone and are willing to put their trust in the hands of the surgeon. Others want to know the nitty gritty details about where the incision will be, what will be worked on, and how it will be sewed up. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions about the procedure as you need to feel comfortable about it. It’s your back, after all. 
  1. Will it be minimally invasive, or will it be open surgery? This question can be of big importance, especially to your recovery. Very often, with advances in technology, minimally invasive surgery is all that is needed and the back doesn’t need to be opened up. This can drastically cut down on recovery times. On the other hand, some injuries are bad enough that they require a more extensive approach. Your surgeon will have a good answer for you as to why they have chosen the technique they plan for, and how it will improve your health moving forward.
  1. What are the side effects or potential risks of the surgery? As with any medical procedure, there are going to be risks, and you should know what to expect. Your eyes should be wide open to the possibilities of complications, and you should know how your surgeon is prepared for them. You should never go into surgery with unanswered questions about your prognosis.
  1. Who else will assist in the surgery? Will any students or other surgeons be taking part? If so, what are their qualifications? It’s never wrong to ask questions about who will be performing the surgery. And you should be aware that, just because you’ve been working with a spine surgeon, there might be other surgeons assisting, such as vascular surgeons. 
  1. What are my non-surgical options? As we mentioned, fewer than 10% of our patients ever require surgery. Most problems can be solved without invasive techniques. We want to exhaust those avenues before we ever consider surgery, so we’ll be sure to discuss all the potential options with you beforehand. 
  1. If I want a second opinion, can you recommend someone I should go to? There’s nothing wrong with getting a second opinion. The second opinion should come from a doctor in a different practice. 
  1. What is the success rate for this surgery? Some surgeries are, by their nature, more successful than others. It’s not out of line to ask what the success rate of a certain surgery is, nor is it out of bounds to ask what the doctor’s personal success rate is. An honest doctor will be open about the facts of a surgery’s success.
  1. Can I talk to other patients who have had this surgery before? While there will be HIPAA laws that need to be negotiated, a doctor should be able to give you references for patients who have had similar surgeries and can tell you what to expect. A happy patient will want to tell you about the success.

Conclusion

Never be afraid to ask a doctor as many questions about an upcoming surgery as you need to be able to feel comfortable with it. Having back surgery is a big decision and not one to be taken lightly. Going into the procedure with your eyes wide open and with all of the potential side effects and successes discussed beforehand will enable you to be confident you’re getting the right kind of care.

Are you ready to talk to your surgeon about your options?

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