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Healthy Living Blog

How to Know When It's Time for Spine Surgery

June 03, 2019 | Dr. Tim Moore


Many people experience back pain. In fact, back pain is the most common type of chronic pain in the United States.

While you may think that surgery is the best way to relieve your pain, there are lots of other non-surgical options for you to try before undergoing surgery. It’s important you discuss your pain with your doctor and together decide the best treatment option for you.

Some treatments your doctor may suggest before surgery are:

  • Ice
  • Heat
  • Spinal injections
  • Physical therapy
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen
  • Regular exercise

Your doctor may also refer you to pain management.

The Pain Management Center at Fisher-Titus offers these treatments for chronic pain:

  • Spinal diagnostic procedures (cervical, thoracic, lumbar)
  • Epidural steroid injection
  • Facet joint injection
  • Radiofrequency treatment
  • Spinal cord stimulation (SCS)
  • Botox injection
  • Selective nerve root block
  • Celiac plexus block
  • Stellate ganglion block
  • Lumbar sympathetic block
  • Trigger Point Injection
  • Joint Injection

Although it is difficult dealing with back pain and you are probably eager for relief, back surgery is not usually a rush. If you have a herniated disc or a degenerative spine condition that is slow to worsen, your doctor or surgeon will likely tell you to wait about six weeks for surgery. This gives your body a chance to heal on its own and see of other more conservative treatments will work.

However, there are times when spine surgery is more urgent. If you have severe, unrelenting pain and neurological symptoms, or have a spinal cord injury, your surgeon will likely not want to wait long to perform surgery. If your surgeon recommends surgery, it’s important not to put it off so the problem doesn’t get any worse.

When it’s time for Surgery

After viewing imaging such as MRIs and trying other treatments, your doctor may refer you to a spine surgeon if you have any of the following:

  • A herniated disk that isn’t getting better on its own
  • Bone spurs in your spine (often caused by arthritis) that are putting pressure on your spinal cord
  • A degenerative spinal condition like stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) that’s causing side effects, like weakness
  • Weakness or numbness in your arms and legs
  • Trouble walking or using your hands
  • Lost bladder or bowel control because of a problem with the nerves in your back
  • A spinal infection, or a high fever with back pain—this can be a sign of a spinal infection
  • A broken or dislocated bone in your back
  • A tumor on your spinal cord

Even if you don’t think you’re ready for spine surgery, it’s important to talk to your doctor about back pain. They can likely help you find other types of relief for your pain or refer you to a surgeon if they think that is the best option to restore your quality of life.

Dr. Tim Moore is an Orthopaedic Spine Surgeon with Fisher-Titus Spine Surgery. He specializes in surgical and non-surgical aspects of orthopaedic spine care. For appointments, call 419-660-4740.