Been Told you Need Spine Surgery? Be Sure to Get a Second Opinion

If you’ve been told you need spine surgery, here are some thoughts to consider first:

1) 90% of back/neck problems will resolve without surgery.

2) Rates of recommending surgery for the same problem vary widely in different parts of the country (and world), suggesting that the indications for surgery are not always clear.

3) Some spinal conditions have a high success rate after surgery, while other spinal conditions have less predictable success rates following surgery.

4) 98% of all spine surgery is technically elective surgery, meaning it should be the choice of the patient, not something mandated by the surgeon.

Patients should always take an active part in the decision-making process for spine surgery. You need to be sure you understand the likelihood of success, the possibility of residual or worsened symptoms, the risks of anesthesia, the risks of the spine surgery itself, and chances of recurrence in the future. If your surgeon has insisted that you must have an operation or has not discussed all of the points above with you, then you may benefit from a surgical second opinion.

Have you been told you need spine surgery? Have you already had spine surgery? Let us know about your experience. We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

About Scott D. Boden, MD:

Dr. Boden is the Director of the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, an internationally renowned surgeon, lecturer, and teacher and the driving force behind the Emory University Orthopedics and Spine Hospital (EUOSH). Dr. Boden began practicing at Emory in 1992.

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  • Arlene

    I have been told my only option to relieve my low back pain is surgery, by a neurosurgeon in Anderson, SC. From an MRI about a year ago, it shows the very last vertebra is tipped inward. Not sure why whether born that way, or during my lifetime – an injury perhaps when I was very young. They want to do surgery to straighten this vertebra by placing a rod in my spine. Even the doctor stated, this is big surgery. I function daily at work but have constant pain moving back and forth in each buttock and going down my thighs. I have severe nerve pain, like sciatica. Originally only on the right side, it is now moving to my left buttocks as well. Someone told me you folks have a non-surgical back clinic I would love to visit for help.

    • Moderator

      Personally identifiable information removed for patient privacy.

    • Dr. Boden

      Hey Arlene,

      I’m very sorry to hear about your pain. Unfortunately, we can’t discuss the details of your medical history or condition within the context of this blog, but we would be happy to discuss it with you in person or over the phone. It’s difficult to know what the problem is without seeing and MRI, CT Scan or other diagnostic information. However, what I can tell you is the decision to consider surgery should be based on whether the symptoms prevent critical activities or daily living (as opposed to elective ones such as recreational sports). If the pain is unbearable, it’s likely worth a second opinion before weighing in on spine surgery as an option.

      You can use this phone number to schedule an appointment with us: 404 778-3350 or if you’d like to get advice from a nurse, you can call 404 778-7777. Hope to see you soon.

      -Dr. Boden