What Can You Expect From An Orthopedic Back Pain Surgery

Although the idea of back pain surgery can be terrifying, there are times when surgery for your pain can really help you to feel better.

It’s important to bear in mind that your doctor won’t recommend surgery unless it’s a last resort.

When do you need back pain surgery?

If previous treatments have failed to offer you effective pain relief, back surgery can help. There are different types of back surgeries, with some being non-invasive. Various medical advancements also help to make back surgeries more comfortable.

Here’s when to know if surgery is the right option for you and what you can expect from going through with the procedure.

Let’s start with signs that you should see an orthopedic surgeon for your pain.

10 Signs You Might Need Surgery For Back Pain

Patient Talking With Doctor

When you visit an orthopedic surgeon, he/she is probably not going to rush into recommending surgery.

Rather, they’ll want to see if other treatments could possibly help unless the underlying cause of your back pain is something that won’t get better with other treatments.

Here are some signs you might be a candidate for back pain surgery.

  • You have a slipped disc and it’s not getting better with other treatments
  • You have a tumor on your spinal cord
  • You have bone spurs in your back and they’re putting a strain on your spinal cord
  • You’ve got a spinal infection with symptoms such as a fever along with back pain
  • Your pain is severe and constant
  • You’ve got spinal nerve problems that are causing you to lose control of your bladder or bowels
  • You’ve broken a bone in your back
  • Your back pain is accompanied by weakness in  your limbs
  • You’re having trouble using your limbs, such as difficulty with walking
  • You’ve got a spinal condition that’s getting worse, such as spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spine)

Four Common Types Of Back Surgery

There are different types of back surgery, depending on your condition or problem. Here’s a rundown of four of the main types.


This is sometimes referred to as a herniated disc surgery.

It can be performed to relieve pain caused by a compressed nerve, eliminate leg weakness or numbness, and to relieve the strain that’s put on the spinal nerves or spinal cord.

How it works is that the surgeon will have to remove a section of the herniated disc that’s putting a strain on the spinal cord or nerve root, causing pain.

This will also eliminate other symptoms that could be caused by the herniated disc, such as weakness, balance problems, and mobility issues.

There are two types of discectomies.

  • Open discectomy. This is when the surgery is done via a cut in your neck or back.
  • Microdiscectomy. This procedure is done with a smaller cut through which the surgeon inserts a thin tube that has a camera on one end. This enables the surgeon to view and remove the disc that has suffered damage. Sometimes a laser can be used during this procedure.

What To Expect During A Discectomy

You will be put under general anesthesia during a discectomy. The surgeon will remove ligament and a bit of spinal bone in order to view and access the herniated disc.

The section of the herniated disc that’s been bulging out will be removed.

However, sometimes the whole disc will have to be removed, so the doctor might replace it with a synthetic bone substitute.

Then, fusion is used to connect the adjoining vertebra with rods or screws.

After The Surgery

You might be able to go home the same day of your surgery. Recovery takes between two and six weeks.

You should avoid heavy lifting for up to eight weeks. Avoiding another disc injury is vital and your doctor might suggest that you engage in low-impact exercises.

If you’re overweight, you might have to go on a weight-loss program to prevent pressure on your spine.


This procedure is a similar operation to a discectomy.

Your surgeon might recommend a laminectomy if you have bone spurs, numbness or leg pain from nerve damage, a ruptured or herniated disc, or if there’s a tumor on the spine.

How the surgery works is that some bone in your spinal column is cut to expose the spinal canal.

The lamina is the part of the spinal canal that works like a cover over the spinal cord.

It’s removed as well as a ligament that supports the spinal column to deal with nerve compression that’s been caused, such as because of bone spurs or a disc problem.

By creating more space for the nerves, this can eliminate nerve compression in the area.

What To Expect During Laminectomy Surgery

You will be put under general anesthesia for this surgery. An incision will be made in your back.

If you have a herniated disc, the surgeon will eliminate the part of the disc that’s causing problems and perform a discectomy at the same time as he or she removes the lamina.

Sometimes, spinal fusion will be done during a laminectomy, such as if you have a curvature of the spine.

During fusion, the surgeon fuses together two or more vertebrae with bone grafts, screws, or rods.

After The Laminectomy

Some patients go home the same day as their surgery, but you might need to stay in the hospital for a short while.

You can go back to your normal life within a few weeks, but this will take longer if you’ve had spinal fusion during your laminectomy.

Your doctor might also suggest that you go for physical therapy to help you regain your strength, as Mayo Clinic reports.

Spinal Fusion

We’ve mentioned spinal fusion in the previous back pain surgery types, but sometimes surgeons will want to do a spinal fusion surgery on its own.

This is the case if you have spinal curvature or degenerative disc disease. This surgery for scoliosis (or spinal curvature) is usually a last resort treatment.

How it works is that two or more bones in the back will be fused together with the use of healthy bone, usually bone graft taken from your body.

These are fused together with the use of metal rods or screws to help the spine become better aligned.

A traditional spinal fusion operation will consist of a large incision in the back, but there is the option for a minimally invasive spinal fusion.

In this procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision and uses special instruments through this incision to complete the operation.

What To Expect During Spinal Fusion Surgery

You will be put under general anesthesia during this surgery.

The surgeon will make a cut in your neck, in your back, on either side of your spine, or in your abdomen, depending on where the vertebrae that require fusion are located.

Then, he or she will retrieve bone from your pelvic bone to make a bone graft. Finally, the vertebrae are fused together, with the bone graft placed between them.

There might also be rods and metal screws used to add greater stability and help you heal.

After The Surgery

You might have to stay in the hospital for up to three days. Once you go home, you’ll probably have to wear a back brace in order for your spine to heal correctly.

This also helps the bones to fuse properly, a process that can take up to a few months.

You’ll probably also have to go to physical therapy to learn how to move in a way that maintains the correct posture and spinal alignment.

Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty

Both of these are spinal operations that involve bone cement is injected into a fractured vertebra. This helps to decrease compression that can lead to back pain.

Vertebral compression fractures are when the body starts to collapse onto itself and this creates a wedge-shaped vertebra, but sometimes more than one vertebrae can become inflicted by this condition, and that results in a hunched spine known as kyphosis.

Some medical conditions can put a person at risk of developing this condition, such as people with osteoporosis, as Mayfield Clinic reports.

Here’s what to expect from both surgeries.


A needle penetrates the skin and the fractured vertebra. Then, bone cement is injected into the bone that’s been fractured.


This also makes use of a needle and cement, but a balloon is inserted and inflated to increase the compressed vertebrae back to its normal size before the cement is injected into space.

This helps to prevent the back from hunching over.

What To Expect From Surgery

You can be given general anesthesia for these procedures, or conscious sedation. That’s when you’re awake but will feel no pain and probably not remember the procedure.

After The Surgery

You will probably have to stay in the hospital for the night after your surgery just so that you can be observed. Then you’ll be allowed to go home.

For the next few weeks, you’ll have to be careful not to overexert yourself. For two weeks, you should avoid any bending or lifting, as well as strenuous activity.

You might also have to see a physical therapist to help you learn the right way to move for better spinal alignment.

Although you might be tempted to rest a lot in order to recover, it’s actually advisable to walk for up to 10 minutes every few hours and then increase this amount when you feel you’re up to it.

Advancements In Back Pain Surgery

Drawing Surgery Lines

There have been many exciting advancements in back pain surgery.

These are changing how to back surgeries are performed as well as reducing recovery time, making the process of having to go through back surgery much more comfortable.

Minimally Invasive Surgery

As mentioned earlier, some back surgery procedures make use of minimally invasive surgery.

This means that instead of making a large incision on the back, surgeons reduce the size of the incision and the amount of trauma put on surrounding tissues.

Having a targeted incision also means that there are fewer risks during surgery and less pain afterward.

Bone Graft Options

The use of bone grafts is sometimes used during back surgery, such as in the case of a laminectomy.

Sometimes these bone grafts are taken from the patient’s body, but they could be sourced from cadavers or made synthetically.

Synthetic bone grafts have many benefits. They remove problems that can be associated with using bone from a donor, such as pain after the operation.

Synthetic bone grafts are made from calcium and are known in the medical field as ceramics.

They look and feel the same as bone grafts that are taken from the patient or donors. But, they come out on top when it comes to how they’re available in large quantities.

Synthetic Disc Replacements

Synthetic Disc Replacement

One of the medical advancements in back pain surgery involves disc replacement with synthetics – it could even be used to replace spinal fusion surgery in the future.

The use of artificial mechanical discs to replace one’s biological discs is already being adopted in Europe.

Currently, this procedure is being tested in clinical trials in the U.S., as Spine Universe reports.

Spinal Navigation Technology

This is computer-assisted image-guidance technology that makes use of computers and X-Rays so that the surgeon can better see the area of the back where he or she has to conduct the procedure.

This technology can offer the surgeon a variety of different displays, such as 3D scans, throughout all of the stages of surgery.

This can make surgery more successful because it can assist in the safer placement of implants, such as when it comes to screws – their length and other measurements can be done with much more precision – and the correct planning for incisions that need to be made.

A great feature of this technology is that surgeons can plan back pain surgery on the computer before the surgery begins in real life.

In addition, the use of this technology also means that the patient and medical team are less exposed to X-Rays.

Long-Acting Local Anesthetic Instead Of General Anesthesia 

Giving Local Spine Anesthetic

While it might sound scary to stay awake during back surgery, this is proving to reduce recovery time in patients.

As reported by Medical Xpress, a traditional spinal fusion surgery that’s performed under general anesthesia can take about four hours and the person will have to be given IV painkillers afterward, as well as stay in the hospital for a few days.

In comparison, being awake during this surgery means it can be done within two hours and patients won’t have to remain in the hospital for longer than a day afterward.

This surgery is performed under a type of local anesthesia known as liposomal bupivacaine.

It’s a long-acting anesthetic that’s recently been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

How it works is that it’s injected into the lower back before the surgeon makes the incision for the procedure.

It prevents the use of IV painkillers after the op because this anesthetic provides the patient with pain relief for up to 72 hours. 

Related Questions

Is bed rest the most important thing after back surgery?

Bed rest is important but you should move around. Your doctor will probably want you to start physical therapy soon after the operation.

Range of motion exercise will also help to strengthen your limbs and you’ll be encouraged to walk on a daily basis.

Why is walking good for you to do after back surgery?

Walking is a gentle exercise that provides many benefits. It boosts blood circulation, bringing nutrients and oxygen to the site of healing, thus increasing your recovery.

Walking is also a good exercise during back pain surgery recovery because it allows you to remain upright.


Hearing that you need to have back surgery might sound like a blessing and a curse simultaneously.

On the one hand, you want to relieve your back pain if other treatments haven’t worked. But, on the other hand, you’re probably worried about what the back surgery will entail.

The good news is that back pain surgery is largely successful, whether the surgery is recommended for disease or structural problems.

While it’s not always a magical cure for pain, when doctors recommend back surgery it’s because they think that its benefits are worth it.

And, with medical advancements in back pain surgery, the idea of needing it doesn’t have to terrify you anymore.

As can be seen in this article, common types of back pain surgery don’t require long recovery time so you’ll be back to your normal activities soon.

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