While surgery can be life-changing for the better, it certainly isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Surgery comes with its own risks and doesn’t always solve the problem. It may even introduce new ones.
You should get a second opinion before you have surgery. Don’t worry about offending your doctor. Second opinions are common practice. It can give you peace of mind that you’re making the right decision, especially if that decision is to go through with surgery.
Questions to Ask your Doctor
Before you jump into surgery, be sure to ask:
- What is the likelihood of success?
- What is the possibility of residual or worsened symptoms?
- What are the risks of anesthesia?
- What are the risks of spine surgery?
- What is the chance of recurrence of my symptoms in the future?
- What will happen if I don’t have surgery?
The good news is that most cases of back and neck problems can be resolved without surgery. In fact, spine surgery is only absolutely needed in a small percentage of cases.
If pain is the only symptom, then surgery is almost always elective, and the decision to proceed is based on weighing the risks versus potential benefits.
Surgery is usually the best option for severe weakness due to nerve or spinal cord compression; however every case is unique. Every patient has a different set of symptoms, exam findings, medical comorbidities (other health disorders) and life goals that drive the decision-making process.
Weighing the Options
Fortunately, most of the patients seen at the Emory Spine Center can be treated with less invasive treatments such as physical therapy, spinal injections or tweaking lifestyle choices that affect spine health. Usually surgery should only be considered once the conservative therapies have been exhausted. If you haven’t already, be sure to talk to your doctor about nonsurgical treatment options for your condition.
The decision to have surgery for most people with back or neck problems usually comes down to your lifestyle goals and desired quality of life.
For example, some people don’t mind living with a certain amount of pain and are content to manage it with anti-inflammatory medications. They can function well through day-to-day tasks and are willing to give up some activities, like running, in favor of lower impact exercise like walking. For them, they may feel the investment and risk of surgery isn’t worth it.
Other patients at this same level of discomfort may prefer to have surgery in hopes of less pain and more mobility. For some people, pain may interfere with daily tasks like doing the laundry or even just getting in and out of the bathtub. They may feel the potential benefits of surgery far outweigh the risks.
If your pain and other symptoms keep you from doing the kinds of activities you enjoy, and less invasive treatments haven’t helped you achieve your health and lifestyle goals, surgery might be a reasonable choice.
We Can Help
If you have been told you need surgery and would like a second opinion, then the Emory Spine Center is a great place to start. We will review your current imaging and obtain any necessary X-rays the same day. Once your records are reviewed and a history and physical exam are performed, we will give our own opinion on the best course of action. This will give you peace of mind that you are making the right choices for you and your family.
About Dr. Gary
Matthew Gary, MD, attended medical school at the University of Florida where he was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha for academic excellence. Following medical school, he completed residency training in neurological surgery at Emory University. During his residency, he gave numerous presentations at local and national neurosurgical society meetings and received research awards at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and Georgia Neurosurgical Society. He went on to complete a complex and minimally invasive spine fellowship at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital under the tutelage of Drs. Barth Green, Allen Levi and Michael Wang. He is interested in all facets of spine health and maximizing patients’ quality of life with a focus on minimally invasive spine surgery.