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Surgery Author: Staff Editor Last Updated: Sep 7, 2017 - 10:06:33 PM

Spinal Surgery: Looking at the Big Back Picture Before Making a Final Decision

By Staff Editor
May 2, 2016 - 8:49:21 AM

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( - There was a time when making the decision to have spinal surgery came down to a patient being instructed by a physician that surgical intervention was required--and the procedure was scheduled shortly after. Today, with few exceptions, patients are encouraged to take an active role in their healthcare and the decision making process. When it comes to something as serious and potentially life altering as back surgery, especially, the final decision should never be made lightly. Instead, patients are encouraged to research, ask questions, take their doctors advice into consideration, and make a decision only when they feel fully comfortable one way or the other.

Your Role as a Patient

As a patient, it's essential that you remember that nobody can push you into having spinal surgery. Your most important role in this situation is to carefully weigh all of the pros and cons, ask as many questions as necessary to become comfortable with your decision, set realistic goals, and maintain open lines of communication with your physicians. Your treatment and recovery process--whether or not you decide to embark on the path to back surgery--will also  be greatly enhanced if you keep a generally positive mental attitude whenever possible, and you maintain a clear understanding of what your surgery (or course of treatment) is meant to accomplish; whether that's pain relief, increased mobility, or something else altogether.

The Role of Your Physician and Medical Team

While your job as a patient is to make an informed decision, one of your physician's most important roles when it comes to your back surgery is to provide you with the necessary information to help you make an educated, confident decision. Your doctor and medical team will give you an evaluation (or several) and thorough examinations. After determining your diagnosis, prognosis, and condition, they will make a suggestion as to whether or not they believe back surgery is recommended, and explain how the procedure works.

This is your opportunity to ask questions. As a patient, you should feel comfortable asking as many as you need to feel comfortable and secure in making a decision. Your doctor should also be able to provide alternate treatment options should you decide not to embark on the surgical route--even if they believe that it will not be as effective. If you feel you need a second opinion before making a decision, let your doctor know that you need additional information before finalizing a surgical date.

Understanding the Risks of Back Surgery

No surgery is without risks. When it comes to surgery of the spine, those complications can include everything from infection, injury to the spinal column, numbness, nerve damage, and loss of bladder control to excessive bleeding, paralysis, a reaction or allergy to anesthesia, and blood clots in the legs. And while most of today's back surgeries are considered safe by medical professionals (and the benefits and possibility of improvements to painful and often debilitating conditions will outweigh any potential risks in the eyes of most patients) a full understanding of these possible risks and complications is essential before you agree to have any surgical procedure.

Additionally, it's important to factor in the risks of choosing not to have surgery when weighing your options as a patient, as well. For example--continued pain, exacerbated nerve damage, or furthered or permanent disability from a current back condition could very well negatively affect your quality of life in such a way that they heavily outweigh the potential risks of going under the knife.

Making the Decision

Once you've carefully evaluated your options and are comfortable with the decision to have back surgery, speak with your medical team. Scheduling your surgery and carefully following your doctor's orders is the first step towards the road to recovery and beginning your new life post-surgery. Whether your ultimate goal is to live with less pain, embark on an overall healthier lifestyle, or improve on an existing condition, carefully following your surgeon's instructions is an excellent place to start.

In the end, the final decision whether or not to have spinal surgery can't be made by anyone other than you--the patient. And while your surgeon can, and will, be able to provide you with enough information to weigh the pros and cons of each individual procedure to allow you to decide, it's important that you carefully take into account the scope, healing time, physician's experience, and expected rate of pain relief before committing to a decision.  There are many effective methods for treating a variety of spinal conditions, both surgical and non. Deciding on the right one for you is a highly personal matter--one that should come down to you, your medical research, and your physician.

Leo Richards works at a hospital as an operating room assistant. He would have liked to have become a surgeon but just wasn't good enough; this is the next best thing for him. Always wanting to learn more about the human body, he enjoys writing medical articles in his spare time.


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