Four Good Reasons to Have Spine Surgery

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Deciding whether or not to have surgery, any surgery, is a difficult decision. When the surgery involves your spine, brain, heart or other critical part, that decision gets even tougher. Even though spine surgery is rarely a case of "do it or die," your life still hangs in the balance. You need to weigh your options carefully and have some good reasons to let a surgeon operate on your spine.

Bowel and Bladder Problems

Bowel or bladder problems related to the spine are considered an emergency; this alone is a
good reason to have spine surgery sooner rather than later.
The nerves that control the bowel and the bladder travel in the spinal cord and any pressure on those nerves can result in permanent loss of control. A malfunctioning bladder or bowel due to nerve damage is called a neurogenic bladder or bowel. If you have a known spinal problem and have recently experienced a change in your ability to urinate and defecate, you have got to get that checked out. Don't let some doctor gloss over that issue as you need an accurate diagnosis if you do have a neurogenic bladder or bowel. The longer you wait, the less likely your normal bowel or bladder function will return.

Limb Weakness

Progressive or severe weakness in a limb is also a reason to consider spine surgery. "Drop foot," "clumsy hands," "legs giving way" are all very concerning and could represent partial paralysis. Unless you want to go through life partially paralyzed, you may want to have spine surgery in order to relieve the stress on the nerve root or spinal cord that is causing the weakness. Hopefully an operation on the spine will prevent worsening damage.
Again, the longer you wait, the more likely the nerve damage will be permanent.

Pain Relief

Maybe you have a life crushing debility from pain associated with a spinal condition that is not responding to all the treatments you've been throwing at it. Maybe you are bedridden and unable to participate in daily life in a meaningful way. If this sounds like you, then you might want to consider spine surgery. Even if you don't have the aforementioned bowel or bladder problems, even if you don't have limb weakness, sometimes spine surgery is the only way to save your life (not literally, but you know what I mean).

Taking the Risk

If you are considering spinal surgery, then you should be willing to risk it all. Surgery is always risky no matter what a surgeon tells you. There is a risk of death, a risk of infection, a risk of permanent nerve damage and yes, and a risk of the pain getting worse, just to name a few potential risks from spinal surgery. Although the percentages may be low, it could happen to you. Is it worth it? That is for you to decide.

Deciding whether or not to have spinal surgery is a very personal decision. Everyone has a different set of circumstances and no one is walking in your shoes. If you do not fit into any of these four reasons to have spinal surgery, then you probably should wait. With over three million spinal procedures preformed every year worldwide, there are probably at least a few people that did not really need the procedure and even a few who are regretting the decision. Don't let that be you.
If you are going to have spine surgery, you'd better have a good reason.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.