Degenerative disc disease surgery is not necessary for the majority of patients with the condition. Degenerative changes take place in the spine of every human as we age. Since back pain is so common in middle age and beyond, a multitude of nonsurgical treatments have been developed to help people like you manage their discomfort. However, some individuals may experience severe symptoms or an early onset of degenerative disc disease (DDD), which typically develops due to too much or too little activity, genetics, obesity, injury, and/or repetitive motions. In these cases, back surgery may be recommended to help patients regain a better quality of life.
If degenerative disc disease is causing you localized pain and/or radiating pain, numbness, weakness, and tingling, your doctor may initially recommend a course of conservative (nonsurgical) treatments. These methods, which can include pain medication, physical therapy, and low-impact exercise, can generally provide sufficient symptom relief over the course of several weeks or months as your spine adjusts to the gradual degeneration it is experiencing. In the event that symptoms are not relieved via conservative treatments and you are unable to enjoy a high quality of life, surgery may become an option for you.
Do Your Homework
If your doctor has asked you to consider a surgical procedure to treat your degenerative disc disease, be sure to:
- Obtain additional medical opinions – Getting second or third opinions can’t hurt and may give you the opportunity to learn about other conservative and surgical treatment options.
- Research the procedure(s) suggested to you – Understanding the risks and benefits of different surgical approaches can help you make an informed decision and make you feel more in control of your situation. Learn about major open back and neck surgeries like spinal fusion, as well as the endoscopic alternatives. Furthermore, ask what their success rates are and whether you are a candidate.
- Find a surgeon you trust – If you ultimately elect to have degenerative disc disease surgery, you should make sure your surgeon is a specialist in orthopedic or neurologic medicine, is board certified, and has done the procedure you plan to undergo many times before. Also, if at all possible, find a surgeon you feel comfortable talking to.
The Possibility of Failed Back Surgery Syndrome
While the intention of a surgical back or neck procedure is to end symptoms once and for all, not all surgeries actually accomplish this. Even more distressing, failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) can occur, which is classified as a worsening of existing symptoms – or the appearance of new symptoms – after a highly invasive open spine surgery like spinal fusion. Back and neck surgeries are elective procedures in most cases, so be sure that you are 100 percent positive about your decision before signing any consent forms.