Does Spine Surgery Work?
At Advanced Spine and Pain (ASAP), providers see patients at every stage of their pain.
Whether they just noticed a twinge in their back last week or they have had years of symptoms. When simple and conservative care like injections, time, and physical therapy does not work, patients often ask me, “does surgery work”? I’d rather do something that will fix the problem.” It’s a question I’ve become better at understanding over the years, but to answer truthfully means that my answer is not “black and white.” Surgery for chronic pain problems, especially of the spine, should really be thought of as a treatment, not a cure. All the treatments we have – medications, injections, physical therapy, biologics-based procedures – are meant to help alleviate pain for a certain period.
Usually, the more invasive the treatment, the longer the potential benefit, but also the greater the risk. For example, while an epidural steroid injection may reduce pain for a period of months, surgery can reduce pain for years. However, the risk is higher with surgery and the truth is pain or other symptoms will likely return at some point, maybe even in a new but related area. To get through all the ambiguities here, I’ve always preferred to ask patients a simple question: “how bad is this bothering you and what things can’t you do because of the pain?” This can help us decide together whether it is time to move to a treatment that has the potential to provide longer-term relief but carries more risk. Chronic pain is rarely something that can be permanently fixed by a single procedure. Instead, the best treatment is a team effort among the patient and provider to figure out a plan which will result in the best and longest relief, but with the lowest reasonable risk.