Spinal Problems Surgery

If you are experiencing back and spine problems, it’s important to consider the option of spinal surgery vs. conservative treatment. In most situations, healthcare professionals recommend conservative treatment before considering surgery.

Conservative Treatment Options

Conservative treatment options are procedures and practices that can improve health without invasive surgery. A long list of conservative treatment options are available to those who want to improve or maintain the health of their spine, including:

  • Exercise: Strength, flexibility and mobility are important for protecting your spine.
  • Massage therapy: Muscle problems are a significant source of back pain, and a treatment-oriented massage therapist can often help.
  • Medications: Options for treating back pain range from over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to prescription muscle relaxants, narcotics and oral steroids. Remember that all drugs have potential side effects.
  • Physical therapy: In addition to exercise, physical therapy might include electrical stimulation, infrared therapy, joint and soft tissue mobilization, traction, or ultrasound.
  • Rest: Although bed rest used to be a standard recommendation for back pain, research now shows that minimal rest with a gradual return to activity is more effective in treating run-of-the-mill back pain.
  • Steroid injections, such as cortisone: The effects of such injections are temporary, and possible side effects include weakening of surrounding tissue. Most sources recommend no more than two or three shots a year.

Another option includes regimens designed to improve the function of your body, such as The Feldenkrais Method®, the Alexander Technique, or Hanna Somatic Education®. Some patients may opt for complimentary treatments such as acupuncture, biofeedback or chiropractic work.

The approach you should take to conservative treatment depends on the underlying cause of your back pain. Working with a knowledgeable professional and finding what works best for you is your responsibility and may require some experimentation.

Back and Spine Surgery

Due to the possible complications of surgery — ranging from a bad reaction to anesthesia to damage to the spinal cord — surgery is usually considered an option only if conservative treatment fails. Cervical surgery is a particularly delicate procedure, as so many nerves and blood vessels are located in the neck.

Depending on the type of back problem you have, a number of surgical procedures are available, ranging from removing part or all of a vertebra or disc to fusing two or more vertebrae.

Traditional open back surgery requires a large incision and long recovery time. Minimally invasive surgery (including laser back surgery) requires only a small incision, and is becoming the preferred method for many types of back surgery. Laser surgery and other minimally invasive techniques have the advantage of shorter surgery time, less damage to soft tissue, less blood loss, shorter hospital stay and faster recovery time.

Spinal Surgery vs. Conservative Treatment

Back pain is common, and surgery often does not relieve the pain. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, 90 percent of people with back pain recover either without treatment or with four to six weeks of conservative treatment.

Back surgery is usually reserved for compressed spinal nerves that cause numbness along the back of the leg or for progressive conditions that cause pain and nerve compression.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (n.d.). Back surgery: When is it a good idea? Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-surgery/HQ00305

Ullrich, P., MD. (n.d.). Conservative care for back pain. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.spine-health.com/treatment/chiropractic/conservative-care-back-pain

Spine Universe Staff. (n.d.). Minimally invasive spine surgery: The benefits. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.spineuniverse.com/treatments/surgery/minimally-invasive-spine-surgery-benefits

University of Maryland Medical Center Staff. (n.d.). A patient’s guide to complications of spine surgery. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/spinecenter/education/complications_of_spine_surgery.htm

Western Journal of Medicine Staff. (February 2000). Chronic back pain: Does bed rest help? Retrieved March 3, 2010, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1070772/