Experiencing back issues is a common occurrence, it’s estimated that as many as 4 million Australians have back issues. The good news is that, in many cases, the back issues are minor and will heal naturally, over time, you may not even need to see a spine surgeon.
The best approach is to see your regular doctor if you have experienced back pain for more than two weeks, it is affecting your ability to do everyday tasks, or you are experiencing numbness or tingling: this usually occurs in your legs. Of course, if you’ve suffered an injury to your back or are experiencing unexplained weight loss, or even have bowel issues you should also see your doctor. All these things suggest you have a back issue that needs to be professionally treated.
Your regular doctor will decide whether to refer you to a spine surgeon. It is most likely you’ll be referred if you have acute pain in your back, your back issue is affecting your nerves, you’ve been diagnosed with a degenerative condition that affects the spinal area, or if your doctor thinks the issue is connected to your nervous system.
The Role Of A Spine Surgeon
Spine surgeons don’t spend every waking hour operating on their patients. In fact, like all surgeons, their primary objective is to heal you without undertaking surgery if possible. Surgery of any sport is considered the last resort in dealing with the issue.
In many cases spine surgeons focus on one of the two specialties within the field:
An orthopedic spine surgeon focuses on looking at and treating spine-related issues, including the nerves, in your back and in your neck. If they have to operate they will only operate on these areas of your body. This type of surgeon is very involved in your rehabilitation with the aim of restoring normal movement and high quality of life.
Neurosurgeons specialize in the nervous system. They will identify issues being caused by your nerves and the signals they relay back and forth to your brain. This type of surgeon will operate to correct damage to your nervous system and also aims to improve life quality.
However, t should be noted that a neurosurgeon will usually only oversee your recovery from the operation. After this, you’ll have a different surgeon to monitor the rehabilitation process.
What your Spine Surgeon Will Do
Your spine surgeon won’t rush you into surgery unless there is no other option. As with any doctor visit you’ll start out with a consultation and an exam to assess the issue. The spine surgeon is then likely to run additional scans to ensure the issue has been correctly identified.
They will then offer what they consider to be the best form of treatment. Before they consider surgery you’re likely to have:
- Pain medication
The first thing you’re likely to get is additional pain medication to help you deal with the back pain. Reduced pain will make it easier for you to be mobile and light exercise is considered key to assisting recovery.
Pain meds need to be carefully monitored to ensure you don’t over-rely on them.
Physiotherapy ensures you have the right exercises for your condition. They will help to improve your muscle strength and this will strengthen your core and spine. In many cases strengthening your core areas will help your back to heal and relieve the pain.
As a last resort, your spine surgeon will suggest surgery. This doesn’t mean you have to have surgery. The surgeon will tell you exactly what to expect and the likely outcome, this will allow you to decide if this is the right course of action for you.
If surgery is necessary you are most likely to be offered spinal fusion. This is where two or more of your vertebrae are fused together. The process improves strength and stability in your spine but it will also reduce flexibility a little. If spinal fusion is a success you won’t need any other surgery.
When the issue is related to tumors and legions on your spine then the most likely surgical option is radiosurgery. This is usually done by a neurosurgeon.
Managing Back Issues
Of course, in many cases, spinal surgery is not a practical option. For example, if you have arthritis in your spine then the best approach is to manage the issue via medication, physiotherapy, and exercise.
The bottom line is simple. A spine surgeon can help with your back issue. But, they won’t necessarily operate to get the desired result. Every case is different and you won’t know what works best for you until you chat with the surgeon and are presented with the options. The final choice is always yours.