7 Great Questions to Ask Your Doctor Before Undergoing Spine Surgery

When you live with chronic back pain, you would do anything for relief. 

And like 600,000 other Americans, you may decide that spine surgery is the right route for you. 

But before you agree to go into the operating room, you need to ask your doctor the right questions. Here are seven questions you need to ask to be prepared for your surgery. 

1. What Type of Surgery Do You Recommend?

There are many different types of spine surgery out there. It’s important to understand why your doctor is recommending this particular type of surgery. 

Ask your surgeon to explain the procedure and describe it to you in plain English. 

For example, you should find out where in the spinal column the surgery will focus and how big the incision will be. You’ll also want to know whether the surgeon will come in through the back (posteriorly) or the front (anteriorly). 

2. What Will the Procedure Do?

After the type of surgery, the next most important question is what the procedure will do. 

This is for two reasons. First, the doctor should have a clear understanding of what’s causing your pain. After all, if they don’t know what’s causing the pain, how can you expect them to recommend the right surgery to treat it? 

Second, if the doctor does know what’s causing your pain, they should be able to elaborate on what this procedure will do to alleviate your pain. 

3. Why This Procedure? Are There Alternatives?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the previous question. 

If your doctor has an understanding of your pain, they should be able to explain why this procedure is the best choice out of all the other available options. They should also be willing to explain what the other options are. 

In most cases, spinal surgery is viewed as the last option only after other, more conservative, non-surgical back treatments have failed. Ask your doctor if there are any other non-surgical options you could try. 

For example, if you have a bulging disc, you may benefit from ice and heat therapy. You may also want to consider stem cell treatments–it’s a quick, minimally invasive procedure that has been shown to slow or stop disc degeneration. 

4. What are the Benefits of This Operation?

When you ask your doctor why you should consider this procedure, you should also talk to them about the benefits of this particular operation. 

The most obvious benefit, of course, is relief from your chronic back pain. But the spine is more than just a row of bones–it’s the body’s central support structure, and the right procedure should correct a number of problems to improve your overall wellbeing. 

Ask your doctor about the benefits in terms of pain relief, restored function, mobility, and independence. Would the surgery allow you to return to work pain-free? Will you be able to walk upright for the first time in a while? 

Don’t forget to ask how long the benefits will last. If you’re only looking at a month of benefits after a long recovery, it may not be worth the time and money. 

5. What are the Risks of This Operation?

No one wants to think about surgical complications and risks. But it’s vital to understand the potential hazards of any operation before you agree to it. 

All surgeries carry some degree of risk, including things like: 

  • Potential infection
  • Anesthesia complications, including bad reactions to anesthesia
  • Excess bleeding
  • Blood clots
  • Nerve damage
  • Delayed healing
  • Difficulty breathing after surgery
  • A bad reaction to implants, transfusions, or grafts
  • Injury during surgery
  • Paralysis
  • Poor results following surgery
  • Scarring after surgery

If you’re worried about anesthesia, it’s a good idea to talk to your anesthesiologist beforehand. The anesthesiologist, not the surgeon, is the one who will give you pain medication before surgery, so it’s important to talk to them about the potential risks of anesthesia in your case. 

Don’t be afraid to be blunt with your doctor about your worries, and don’t be shy when asking them how they’ll deal with potential complications during and after surgery. 

Remember, no one has to undergo surgery against their will. You always have the right to refuse surgery if you’re not comfortable with it. 

6. What are the Chances of Success?

When you talk to your doctor about benefits and risk, it’s important to bring up your chances of success after surgery. 

The success of any surgery is contingent on several factors. This includes anything from your medical history to your reaction to the anesthesia to the doctors and nurses working on you to how your body reacts to the surgery. 

This is to say that every patient is different, and no surgery has a 100% guaranteed success rate. Your doctor has to be honest about your chances for success based on the severity of the problem, your medical history, and the relative risk of the procedure. 

If a particular operation doesn’t have a high success rate, it’s important to consider whether the potential for success is worth the risk (and cost) of poor results. 

7. What Will My Recovery Look Like?

Finally, make sure to ask your doctor what your recovery will look like. 

Highly invasive operations typically have longer recovery periods. It takes longer to heal from a broken arm than a paper cut, and the same basic principle applies to spinal surgery. 

Ask your doctor how long they expect the recovery to take and what your limitations will be. For example, will you need assistance at home after surgery? For how long? How long will you have limitations following surgery? Will you need physical therapy or medications? 

This also applies to work and your personal life. When will you be able to drive again? What about lifting things, like kids or an infant? When can you return to work? When can you have sexual activity again? 

You’d be surprised by how much your life is affected when you can’t move freely. Make sure you understand how this will affect your life (and for how long) so that you can plan accordingly. 

If You Need Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

If you’ve asked all the right questions, or if you’re looking for the right doctor to perform your spine surgery, you’ve come to the right place. 

Not sure if you’re a good candidate for surgery? Read this guide to see if you should consider surgery as a treatment option. 

Want to talk about your options? Click here to book an appointment online. 

What Is the Best Herniated Disc Treatment Option out There?

When you’ve hurt your back and you can’t get up what do you do?

If you can’t get up, you call for emergency help

We’re not making light of someone who truly can’t get up but most of the time when you hurt your back, you can get up and get to the doctor.

The key phrase here is get to the doctor.

Most people initially self-diagnose and take a few hours or a day or so and rest. 

A round of extra-strength over-the-counter pain medication is often taken.

But what if your back pain doesn’t go away? What is it’s something more serious like a ruptured or herniated disc?

Modern medicine has an answer for you!

If you do have a herniated disc, it’s not the end of the world. 

We’ve put together a mini-guide for people who are considering or are worried about herniated disc treatment. If you’re not sure you have a herniated disc, call your doctor today. 

In the meantime, read this guide so you’re prepared when it’s time for your doctor visit.

What Is a Herniated Disc?

Back pain is so common most people have either experienced it or have a family member who has suffered from it. A staggering 80% of adults experience back pain at least once in their lifetime.

Most people don’t immediately assume their back pain is caused by a herniated disc. The average person assumes they’ve over-exerted at the gym or lifted a heavy object the wrong way.

Back pain can be caused by either activity but it could also be caused by a herniated disc, also called a bulging or ruptured disc.

A herniated disc is a condition of the cervical or lumbar spine. The cervical spine relates to the neck. The lumbar spine refers to the lower back.

When a disc is herniated nerves around the disc compress creating pain in the back, neck, arms, and legs, depending on whether the disc is located in the cervical or lumbar spine.

Disc pain is most common in the lower back because that’s where most of the movement the spine occurs. 

Pain in the neck, arms, or legs should be investigated as well since a herniated disc in the cervical spine may be the culprit.

As soon as you tell someone you’re having severe back pain, they’re likely to tell you it’s a herniated disc. Beware of listening to anyone other than a doctor. Self-diagnosis of a herniated disk is impossible.

You may suspect you have a disc issue but your doctor is the only one who can confirm it. 

Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor will recommend the best treatment for your unique situation.

If you’ve avoided seeing a doctor because you’re afraid of surgery, keep reading because surgery isn’t normally the first treatment offered to a patient.

Rest First

Doctors don’t rush patients into surgery unless not having surgery poses a serious health risk. They prefer what is considered conservative treatment methods.

The most common first treatment for a herniated disc is rest. 

Most patients don’t have a problem resting since they’re often in so much pain they can’t do much else.

Rest means no lifting and no strenuous exercise. You won’t be joining your friends at the gym.

Some patients go overboard with rest and stay in bed way longer than they should. Rest beyond 1-2 days does more harm than good as it can cause stiff muscles

Rest is a wonderful first treatment but don’t most doctors also offer medication? 

Medication Second

Another popular conservative treatment options is medication.

Depending on your pain level, you may be prescribed one of the following medications:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
  • Narcotics like codeine or an oxycodone-acetaminophen combination.
  • Anticonvulsants are usually prescribed for patients who have seizures but they can help treat nerve pain caused by a herniated disc as well.
  • Muscle relaxers if you have muscle spasms-common with a herniated disc.
  • Cortisone injections for relief of inflammation.

Patients who follow doctors orders and their pain medication regimen normally feel relief within a few days or weeks.  

You may be thinking “I’ve rested. I’m taking my pain meds. I’m still in pain.”

Doctors have another conservative treatment they suggest for patients when pain isn’t significantly reduced within a few weeks.

Physical Therapy Next

Physical therapy is also considered a conservative care treatment for a herniated disc.

During physical therapy, patients learn techniques which help avoid activity that aggravates the disc. You may also learn ways you can improve your posture so that you reduce pressure on the disc.

Physical therapy is designed for minimization of the pain of a herniated disk.

The timeline for healing ranges from 2-8 weeks. Of course, healing depends on dedication to the physical therapy program. Dedication of the patient, not the physical therapy team.

Some patients simply don’t respond to rest, medication, or physical therapy and at that point, doctors begin discussing what are considered invasive treatment methods.

Before looking at those, however, let’s take a moment and discuss a few other ways doctors can help patients manage pain.

Alternative Pain Management

Medication isn’t the only treatment method used for pain management.

Doctors who treat disc herniation have access to a wide range of non or minimally invasive treatments.

If you’re more interested in trying pain management your doctor may suggest anything from surgical stimulation to spinal injections. Remember, each patient is unique and will respond to treatment in their own way. 

What works for a friend may not be the best pain management option for you. 

Let your doctor discuss the best options so that you have the best chance of successful treatment.

There will always be patients who don’t respond well to any of the already mentioned treatments for their herniated discs.

The best option may be surgery.

Surgical Herniated Disc Treatment

The most critical action you can take as a patient getting in for a visit with the doctor. You may only need rest or medication but the doctor is the best judge of what treatment method is best for your unique needs.

Surgery may be your answer!

Spine-health has come a long way. There are several minimally invasive surgical treatments available for treatment of a herniated or bulging disc.

Your doctor won’t make rash decisions when determining whether you’re a candidate for surgical treatment. Before any surgery is scheduled you’ll have a complete review of your MRI. Then, you’ll have a surgical consultation.

Modern surgical techniques include:

  • Minimally invasive decompression surgery
  • Endoscopic Cervical Discectomy
  • Anterior Cervical Discectomy

There are many other surgical treatments available and your doctor will go over each with you before you both determine which is best for you. 

Whichever treatment method you and your doctor decide is best, the end goal is life without the painful and debilitating effects of a herniated disc.

Which Treatment Option is Best for You?

Staff at Executive Spine Surgery get excited about helping patients enjoy spine health. 

If you’re experiencing back pain, or if you’ve already been diagnosed and are ready for herniated disc treatment, let us help you understand your treatment options. 

We invite you to get to know us and find out whether you’re a candidate

spinal fusion surgery

The Ultimate Guide on Preparing for Spinal Fusion Surgery

Eight out of ten Americans will experience back pain during their lifetime. For many of these sufferers, at-home care can sometimes reduce symptoms. But what if an operation such as spinal fusion surgery is necessary to ease the pain?

Back surgery may sound like a stressful and scary experience. A little planning ahead of time and knowing what to expect, however, can calm your worries.

Here’s everything you need to know about preparing for spinal fusion surgery and how to make your recovery easier.

Prep Your Home

One of the most important tasks to do in the weeks leading up to surgery is to make your home as comfortable and recovery friendly as possible.

You won’t be able to bend over for a while, so remove anything off the floor that you think you may need such as footwear and clothing. Place them in a dresser drawer or another easily accessible area that’s off the ground. That goes for personal care items, reading material, and anything else you’ll want access to.

Kitchen items that are stored close to the ground such as pantry food products, pots, and pans should be moved to a higher location. Refrigerated food should be placed at a comfortable level.

Throw rugs can be a safety hazard as they’re easy to trip over. Roll them up and store them so they’re out of the way. Place non-slips mats in the shower and bathtub.

You may want to prepare or purchase meals that be easily defrosted and heated up if you don’t want to deal with cooking after surgery.

Keep your cordless or mobile phone next to your bed for easy access. If your home has more than one story, try to confine what you need on one floor if possible.

Enlist Help

Managing your needs after surgery will be easier if you have assistance. You won’t be able to drive yourself home when you’re discharged from the hospital, so make arrangements to have someone dependable drop you off and take you home.

You’ll require a helping hand to do cleaning, run errands, or take you to your post-op appointments until you’re fully mobile and able to drive. Arrange for a friend, family member, or professional care to visit and help you until recovery is complete.

Just Before the Spinal Fusion Surgery

Depending upon your particular medical condition, your doctor may advise that you be fitted with a cervical collar or lumbar brace to help with the recovery. This is usually done in the months or weeks leading up to the surgery.

Your home may need to be equipped with a toilet seat extender, walker, and long-handled reacher to make going about your daily routine a little easier.

You may be required to undergo a blood test, electrocardiogram (EKG), and chest X-ray prior to surgery.

If you’re physically active, you should keep up with the regular exercise or activity until you have the surgery. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can keep circulation healthy which can even help prevent post-op risks such as blood clots.

Some patients experience constipation after back surgery. You can help prevent this by eating foods high in fiber a week before the procedure and drinking plenty of water.

Your surgeon will most likely advise you to stop taking ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen about a week before the procedure. These medicines are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. They can thin your blood too much, leading to complications.

Disclose to your surgeon all pills you take including over-the-counter medication and any herbal supplements. You may be instructed to stop taking certain prescriptions such as blood thinners until after surgery. You should abstain from drinking alcohol a week before the surgery date, as it can also thin the blood.

If you smoke, you may be required to quit using all nicotine products a few months before surgery. Smoking can make healing longer and more difficult.

The Night Before Surgery

Expect a call from the hospital with final instructions the night before your operation. You won’t be able to eat or drink anything after midnight the evening before your surgery, even if it’s taking place later the following day. Even water is not permitted after midnight.

You’ll need to bathe with an anti-bacterial soap and you may be required to take an enema. Remove all jewelry including wedding bands and other rings the night before, as swelling in the morning may make them difficult to slip off.

The Day of Surgery

You’ll meet with a nurse who will ask questions about your medical background as well as the anesthesiologist who will walk you through the sedation process.

Remove all jewelry including wedding bands and other rings the night before. On the morning of your surgery, you’ll be asked to remove any jewelry, dentures, hairpieces, contact lenses, and artificial limbs.

Bring a supply of your own toiletries and clothing including slippers to the hospital with you to make your stay more comfortable.

Recovery and Coming Home

Most spinal fusion surgery patients stay in the hospital between two and five days. Hospital staff will assess you to make sure you can take care of your personal hygiene and walk the hallway without assistance before you are discharged. Light physical activity is often an important part of your at-home recovery from back surgery.

The hospital will give you careful instructions on how to care for your dressing and any warning signs to be aware of.

When someone takes you home, you should be reclining in the front seat or lying down in the back.

At home, follow these seven must-have tips for recovering from spinal fusion surgery.

Be Prepared For Your Spinal Fusion Surgery

Now that you know what to expect for your spinal fusion surgery, you can better prepare yourself and your home for the procedure.

At Executive Spine Surgery, we specialize in a full range of surgical procedures and treat many back conditions that include bone spurs, bulging discs, and arthritis of the spine. To learn if you’re a candidate for back surgery, book an appointment with us online.