Top 5 Questions to Ask Before Back Surgery

If you have back pain and anti-inflammatory medications, heat or ice, exercising, or going to physical therapy hasn’t helped, your doctor may recommend back surgery. These five questions to ask before back surgery can help you know what to expect, what preparation is required, what recovery may be like, and when you’ll feel better.

Top 5 Questions to Ask Before Spinal Surgery

There’s a lot to understand about what you may face. Don’t hesitate to ask your surgeon these back surgery questions.

1. Why do I need back surgery?

 A man walks outside happy he had back surgery after his back surgery questions were answered.

If your pain is a result of disc problems or bone growth that is too close to a spinal nerve, or you’re suffering from a condition such as scoliosis that has a severe curve, surgery is often recommended when other measures haven’t helped.

2. What is the type of surgery?

Your spinal surgeon will recommend one of the following procedures:

  • A Diskectomy removes part or all of a herniated disc that’s causing pain from nerve compression. Plastic and metal artificial disks may replace the damaged material.
  • A Laminectomy removes bone at the back of the spine and makes more room for the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Spinal fusion replaces arthritic joints with metal implants and grafts to connect spinal bones or to correct scoliosis.

3. Are there things I can do to prepare for the surgery?

For the best possible outcome, your doctor may make ask you to:

  • Lose weight if you’re overweight to reduce the risk of surgical complications such as blood clots
  • Tell them if you suffer from diabetes or other diseases in case they cause issues
  • Quit smoking
  • Stop taking medication beforehand (including supplements) because they could interfere with anesthesia and bleeding

You should prepare help with bathing, dressing, getting up and down, meals, transportation, and more. You’ll also want slip-on shoes and comfortable clothes, and items such as a shower chair or raised toilet seat.

4. What can I expect with the surgery?

The latest advances in technology and science—including robotic surgery—are revolutionizing back surgery.

If it’s a minimally invasive discectomy, you may be under local anesthesia, and the procedure could take a couple of hours. An incision is made to insert a small tube through which tiny tools or a laser can remove part of the disc. But if more is removed or new bone is inserted, you’ll probably be under general anesthesia and the procedure could last several hours. You’ll remain in the hospital overnight.

Laminectomies can take two to three hours under general anesthesia. The surgeon makes an incision and cuts through muscle to remove the damaged vertebrae. You may also need herniated discs removed, or bone grafting or fusion to stabilize the spine. For less invasive surgery where only damaged vertebrae are removed, you could be discharged that day, but you may stay in the hospital longer if it’s more complicated.

With spinal fusion surgery, you’ll be under general anesthesia. The surgery takes up to eight hours and may require a stay of several days. An incision is made to reach the damaged area, which is fused with bone grafts held in place by metal screws and plates.

5. What is recovery like?

For laminectomies and discectomies, recovery generally takes about 12 weeks, while spinal fusion may take six months to a year.

You’ll be on pain medication and go home with a prescription. Avoid anti-inflammatory medications for several months as they can make healing harder.

Physical therapy usually starts within 24 hours, and you’ll continue it after you’re released. You may be fitted with a brace and/or use a walker and switch to a cane later.

Keep incisions clean and dry. If you have sutures, they’ll be removed around day 10. No bathing is allowed, but you can use a shower chair.

Your doctor will want to know if you experience any:

  • Pain
  • Incision drainage, redness, or swelling
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Signs of a blood clot: swelling, pain, or redness in calf or ankle

Throughout your recovery, you’ll continue physical therapy and gradually resume more activity. With minimally invasive surgeries, you may be able to start driving after three weeks if off pain medication and have a doctor’s OK. It may take as long as two to three months to return to work.

Town Center Orthopaedics: Virginia’s Experts in Spinal Care, Surgery, and Recovery

If you’re suffering from back pain or know you need back surgery, call Town Center Orthopaedics first. With the latest in robotic surgery and cutting-edge techniques, we specialize in disc replacements, laminectomies, spinal fusion, scoliosis, and more, in addition to working with you on pain management and recovery.

Request an appointment at one of our convenient locations in Ashburn, Centreville, Fairfax, and Reston in Virginia. We’ll get you set up right away so you can ask your back surgery questions and get the answers you need.

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TCO provides patients with orthopedic problems the trusted resources and patient-centered advice they need to “Feel Better. Move Better. Be Better.”