The thought of undergoing spine surgery terrifies most individuals. Tales of long recoveries, debilitating pain, and even paralysis often trigger a sense of fear among the patients, due to which several people avoid getting spine surgery. However, most of these stories are usually myths, and with the advancement in technology, spine surgery is one of the most common surgeries that is performed safely with a high success rate.
This type of surgery is usually performed as a last resort for treating back pain or other disorders. In some cases, spine surgery is also the best option for alleviating this pain and restoring quality of life. While spine surgery has helped several patients regain their quality of life and has enabled them to perform their daily activities without any pain, due to the various misconceptions concerning spine surgery, many people delay or avoid this vital surgery and continue to live with pain.
Some of the most common myths surrounding spine surgery include:
Myth 1: Most spine problems require surgery.
Fact: Contrary to common belief, most spine issues do not require surgery. A majority of spine problems can be effectively treated without surgery. It is only in cases where physiotherapy and medication have been ineffective in reducing pain or numbness that surgery is recommended. Approximately, only 2–3% of the patients suffering from back pain or neck pain and less than 5% of patients with lumbar disc herniation or slipped disc prolapse require surgery.
Spinal surgery is always considered a last resort and is suggested only when other treatment methods have failed. One should consult their specialist to get the best treatment plan for their condition.
Myth 2: Spine surgery increases the risk of a neurological injury.
Fact: While it is true that spine surgery poses the risk of nerve damage, this risk is quite minuscule. There is less than a 1% risk of nerve damage in most of the lower back surgeries and approximately a 2-5% risk in the surgeries of the midback and neck. The neurological risk varies with the complexity of the cases, and in most routine cases, there is hardly any risk of nerve damage.
Additionally, with advanced tools like intraoperative neuromonitoring (IONM), surgeons are now able to monitor the function of the nerves and spinal cord during the surgery. This tool also warns the surgeon and helps them identify any inadvertent damage to the nerves. With the presence of IONM, surgeons can confirm the preservation of nerve function throughout the surgery and ensure surgical safety, further resulting in the preservation of neurological function.
Myth 3: Surgery provides complete relief from pain.
Fact: While spine surgery can help in correcting spine disorders and can restore the proper functioning of the spine, surgeries do not provide complete relief from pain and are not capable of fixing the issues completely. There are certain parameters, such as a healthy body weight, lifestyle, and balanced diet, on which the outcomes of surgery are dependent. It is difficult to ensure positive results unless one is following these parameters.
Myth 4: Complex spine surgeries have a long recovery time.
Fact: “How long will I have to stay in bed after my surgery?” is the commonest question asked by patients who are undergoing spinal surgeries. This fear of prolonged bed rest and longer recovery time often stems from older experiences with conventional open surgeries. However, with the advent of minimally invasive and endoscopic spine surgeries, there is less muscle damage and blood loss than in conventional spine surgeries. These new-age procedures also aid in faster recovery, lesser post-operative pain, and a faster return to work or normal activity as compared to conventional or open surgeries, and ensure that patients are discharged on the same day of the surgery. Today, more than 80% of spine surgeries, even the most complex ones, can be treated with minimally invasive techniques.
Myth 5: Once a patient has undergone spine surgery, they will require another one.
Fact: It is a myth that a patient who has undergone spine surgery will require another one in the near future. In most cases, patients have to undergo spine surgery only once and are provided post-operative care to avoid any further complications. With modifications in lifestyle and mild exercises, patients can achieve faster recovery without requiring another spine surgery.
Myth 6: A patient visiting a spine specialist will undoubtedly be suggested a spine surgery.
Fact: If you are suffering from spine-related issues, you will require a visit to an orthopaedic doctor, who will further refer you to a spine specialist for a better diagnosis and treatment. A spine specialist will only recommend spine surgery depending on the severity of the spine injury and other related issues.
It is important to understand that one must consult their doctor before choosing to undergo spine surgery. In some cases, doctors also refer the patient to consult a surgeon to get a different perspective on their condition.
Author is Consultant in Neurosurgery, Head of Spine Services