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This question is frequently asked by patients. Many people have been told to “never have spinal surgery” however in the hands of a spinal specialist, this is far from the truth. Modern spinal surgery's goal is to minimize trauma while maximizing return to function. Most patients who have proper surgery for one or two levels of spine disease usually experience a full and complete return to their lifestyle. This is especially true for motivated patients who are willing to perform quality rehab and comply with necessary exercise and fitness routines to optimize spine health. Virginia Spine Institute feels truly blessed to help so many people recover from severe incapacitating pain and return to full and complete lives. This is possible because our true spine specialists bring the highest level of quality care to our patients.


Historically, spinal surgery developed a poor reputation from decades of poor surgical outcomes. This created a misperception that if you had spinal surgery your life would never be the same. This cannot be further from the truth when modern spinal surgery is performed by a qualified, competent spinal surgeon. The era of modern spinal surgery just began during the past 15-20 years. In the 1950s through 1970s, patients were frequently kept on bed rest for months at a time after spinal fusion without good results. Minimally invasive surgery did not exist and every operation required major trauma to the body with major disruption of muscles. Prior to the early 1990s, the instrumentation available to treat spinal conditions was first and second generation equipment. In the 1980s, initial improvements were made to decrease the failure rate of surgeries. It wasn't until early 2000s when we saw great technological breakthroughs. 


Today, we have advanced leaps and bounds beyond where spinal surgery originated. Spine surgery is performed by minimizing trauma to the body, preserving maximum function, and optimizing a patient’s return to their life. Many patients who have had minimally invasive, or even major reconstructive surgery, return to play professional sports, remain active in hobbies such as golf and running, work full time and enjoy an active family life. We benefit from incredible technological improvement. Current spinal instrumentation has a lower profile with greater strength. This allows for smaller incisions and faster surgeries. These modern innovations allow patients to be move immediately after surgery eliminating debilitating bed rest. The national incidence of spinal surgery has increased over the past decade because of vastly improved spinal knowledge and technology.

“Should I have spinal surgery?”

Before you reach a need for surgery, if possible, exhaust all reasonable non-operative measures to improve function. If these treatments are not successful, do not wait until you are suffering from severe neurologic deficit to have surgery. You may risk the ability to return to a full and active lifestyle. One of the indications for spinal surgery is progressive loss of nerve function. These symptoms may include extremity numbness, weakness in arms or legs, or loss of bowel or bladder function. Persistent radiating pain into an extremity, left untreated, can lead to permanent nerve damage and chronic conditions. If you experience persistent or recurrent symptoms for greater than three months, the likelihood of natural healing decreases. 

Spinal surgery, when done for the right reasons in the proper fashion, can yield excellent results. Unnecessarily delaying treatment can compromise surgical success and impair recovery. Spinal surgery must be appropriately timed and coupled with a quality rehabilitation program to optimize the body’s ability to recover. In understanding all of this, the answer to the question “should I have spinal surgery?” is yes. You should have the correct spinal surgery performed by a spinal specialist.