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Spine Surgery? Sometimes, it is better to wait.

Spine Surgery? Sometimes, it is better to wait.

If you have a serious life or limb threatening condition,  you need to trust your physicians and get spine surgery if that is their recommendation.

If you have a serious life or limb threatening condition,  I hope you are not reading this blog,  and instead getting medical care NOW.

For the rest of you,  please understand that a serious life or limb threatening condition means you can do great harm by waiting.  Those situations include heart related pain,  breathing difficulties infections,  cancer, and broken bones.  As a Spine Surgeon,  it means conditions that can cause impending paralysis,  or irreversible nerve damage.  Fortunately,  those conditions are very rare,  and most of you have time to make the decision for surgery,  as long as you can tolerate the pain.

The difficult concept for most people  to understand,  is SEVERE PAIN in isolation,  may NOT BE A LIFE or LIMB THREATENING CONDITION.  It just feels like one.    That is why you need to see a trusted physician to determine if your pain is something that can be managed without spine surgery.  For the non life or limb threatening pains,  often times it improves, and become tolerable.  If the pain persists,  you can then have an educated informed discussion with your Surgeon to decide if the risks or surgery will be worth the benefit,  Unfortunately,  during this discussion about the pro’s and con’s of surgery,  Surgeons and Patients may have different understanding of the goals.  While specific conditions are amenable to excellent results,  others are less predictable in the outcome.  Patient expectations must be realistic.   For our more senior population,  often times the condition is caused by a  diffuse aging process,  and while surgery may improve one aspect of the complaint,  it may not correct all the other problems.

While you are waiting to make the decision for spine surgery,  many people find themselves improving.  As a Spine Specialist,  I know that many disk herniations to both the neck and the back improve,  shrink in size,  and become asymptomatic.

If you review scientific research,  we know that many patients who are told they would need surgery to improve pain often improve without it.

If you have concerns about your surgical recommendation,  and do not have a life or limb threatening condition,  it is perfectly fine to wait.

On the other hand,  if you have decided to move forward with surgery,  have a positive attitude,  and do not second guess your decision.  Optimism also helps.


Last modified: January 5, 2018

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