Living with chronic back pain can be frustrating, especially when it causes decreased mobility and affects your ability to perform everyday activities. If you have a spine condition that’s negatively impacting your quality of life, you may wonder if you’ll need surgery to relieve your symptoms.
Sometimes non-surgical treatments, such as physical therapy and over-the-counter pain medications, can help. However, that’s not always the case. If you’ve already tried other options to relieve your back pain and restore your mobility, it may be time to start considering back surgery.
There are three main types of spinal surgery: spinal fusion, spinal decompression, and vertebral augmentation. In this post, we’ll break down the most common types of back surgery so you can see which may be effective in treating the cause of your back pain.
1. Spinal fusion surgery
Spinal fusion is a procedure that’s used to correct problems with the vertebrae in your spine. During this surgery, two or more vertebrae are permanently fused together to form one solid bone. By joining these vertebrae, you can decrease or eliminate some sources of painful movement in the spine. Spinal fusion can also help with spinal instability caused by fractures or other weaknesses in the spine.
Your healthcare provider may recommend spinal fusion surgery if you have:
- Herniated disks
- Spinal instability
- Arthritis in the spine
- Degenerative disk disease
- Fractures in one or more vertebrae
- Tumors or infection causing spinal weakness or instability
2. Spinal decompression surgery: Diskectomy
Spinal decompression is a type of surgery that can help relieve pain and pressure caused by pinched nerves in the spine. Pinched nerves are often caused by a narrowing of the spaces between your vertebrae. This condition is called spinal stenosis. It can lead to muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, and pain in the neck or lower back.
Spinal stenosis can be caused by herniated disks, bone spurs on the vertebrae, spinal injuries, and tumors in the spinal cord. These conditions may cause back pain, loss of mobility, and pain that radiates down your arms or legs.
The most common spinal decompression surgery is diskectomy, which is used to treat herniated disks in the spine. During a diskectomy procedure, your surgeon will trim away part or all of the disk that’s causing your back pain. If the entire disk is removed, they may perform a spinal fusion and use a bone graft to join the two surrounding vertebrae. This can help your spine stay strong and stable after your discectomy.
3. Spinal decompression surgery: Laminectomy and foraminotomy
Sometimes, during a diskectomy, the surgeon may also need to remove a part of your vertebrae called the lamina. If a large part of the lamina is removed, the procedure is called a laminectomy. If only a small part is removed, it’s called a laminotomy.
Both spinal decompression procedures work by widening the spinal canal and relieving pressure on the spinal cord or surrounding nerves. They can be performed on their own or at the same time as a diskectomy or other spinal decompression surgery.
A foraminotomy is another spinal decompression surgery that’s used to widen the spinal canal and take pressure off any pinched nerves. During this procedure, a surgeon removes part of the bone and tissue around the central opening in one or more vertebrae (called the foramen). If a large portion of bone and tissue is removed from the foramen, the procedure is instead called a foraminectomy.
4. Vertebral augmentation surgery
Vertebral augmentation surgeries are typically recommended to treat painful compression fractures in the spine. They involve injecting bone cement into the fractured vertebra to stabilize the bone while it heals and relieve pain caused by the fracture. There are two main types of vertebral augmentation surgery: vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty.
Vertebroplasty involves using a hollow needle to inject bone cement directly into the fractured vertebrae. During this procedure, a surgeon uses real-time x-ray images to find the fracture and determine where they’ll put the needle. After the procedure, when the bone cement dries, it forms an “internal cast” that stabilizes the fractured bone.
Kyphoplasty is a similar procedure. Just like vertebroplasty, it involves using bone cement to stabilize a fractured vertebra. However, during this surgery, the surgeon first uses the hollow needle to insert a balloon into the spine. This helps restore any height lost by the compression fracture. It also creates a clearly defined space for the bone cement injection.
How can you choose the right spinal surgery for you?
The spinal surgery you choose will depend on what’s causing your back pain and loss of mobility. Talking with a doctor or surgeon familiar with your condition can help you decide which type of surgery (if any) has the greatest chance of relieving your symptoms.
Before your doctor recommends any type of spinal surgery, they’ll need to pinpoint the source of your back problems. To do this, they’ll talk with you about your symptoms and take images of your spine using a diagnostic imaging test, such as an x-ray, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
Once you know which type of spinal surgery is best for your specific situation, you can use the New Choice Health Spine Surgery Assist program to find a fair price for your procedure. Our care concierges can connect you with top surgeons in your area, as well as cash pay discounts and financing options to lower the amount you pay out-of-pocket for your surgery.