Back pain is one of the most difficult conditions for doctors to treat for the simple fact that there are so many things that can cause it. Moreover, root causes are not always easy to identify. Something as simple as a pulled muscle can cause pain that makes a person believe he or she has slipped a disk. So how does one know if back surgery is necessary?
More often than not, back surgery is related to herniated disks. A herniated disk is one that has at least partially ruptured from the space between the two vertebrae cushions, creating pain as the vertebrae press down on the tissue. Herniated disks do not always have to be treated with surgery.
For example, the doctors at Texas-based Lone Star Pain Medicine may recommend against the back surgery if they have reason to believe there are other ways to treat a herniated disk. They do so for the simple fact that back surgery is invasive surgery. There is always the risk of infection and other complications when you go poking around in someone’s spine.
All that being said, there are four things that might trigger a back surgery recommendation:
1. Chronic Pain Inhibiting Daily Activity
There is no doubt that herniated disks can cause chronic pain. For some people, the pain is severe enough to limit daily activity. Consider the patient whose back pain is so severe that he can no longer go to work. Another patient’s chronic pain is such that she cannot do things like work in the garden or go grocery shopping.
When pain is severe enough to inhibit daily activities, a doctor might recommend back surgery. The goal is to allow the patient to resume regular activities with as little pain as possible.
2. A Herniated disk Is Causing Numbness or Weakness
There are times when a herniated disk presses on surrounding nerves, thereby causing numbness or weakness in the extremities. This is never a good situation as it can lead to other problems. Numbness or weakness is a good reason to recommend back surgery.
3. Loss of Bladder and Bowel Control
Though loss of bladder and bowel control is not something every patient with a herniated disk experiences, it is not uncommon either. A herniated disk pressing on surrounding nerve tissue can interrupt signals between the brain and the lower body, thereby making it difficult to control bowel and bladder movements. This is obviously a situation that needs correcting. Back surgery is an option.
4. Impaired Standing and Walking
Finally, doctors might recommend back surgery when a herniated disk is impairing a patient’s ability to stand or walk. Understand that impaired standing and walking are not just mobility issues. If a person remains sedentary for too long, he or she could eventually lose the use of the legs altogether. The old ‘use it or lose it’ adage is in play here. Rather than take that chance, a doctor would rather recommend back surgery to alleviate the pain and get the patient back on his/her feet.
There are different types of surgical procedures doctors can utilize. For example, a diskectomy removes the damaged disk through an incision in the back of the neck. In some cases, doctors are able to perform what is known as a microdiskectomy. This procedure involves a much smaller incision and a camera to identify and remove damaged tissue.
Surgery is not always the best option for treating herniated disks. But if you are suffering from one of the four conditions described in this post, a herniated disk may trigger a recommendation for surgery from your doctor.