5 Questions to Ask Your Surgeon Prior to Back Surgery

Being clear about what to expect will help you get the surgical outcome you want

For patients about to undergo back surgery, there can be quite a bit of anxiety leading up to operation day.  Being anxious is never a good thing but being anxious about impending surgery is even worse. Depending on the type of patient you are, you may either ask questions as a way of easing  the anxiety or not. Some patients feel uncomfortable asking questions so they don't. 

There is no right or wrong behavior but I urge you to talk to your surgeon. Be the patient who asks questions--no matter how simple you think they are. More than ever before, patients have access to information regarding healthcare, which means they have more opportunity to understand the outlook and outcomes for their condition. Patients who are more informed help improve their quality of care because they have a better understanding of what to expect before and after surgery. Here are 5 questions to ask your spine surgeon before back surgery:

1. Why do you recommend this procedure?

The question is simple, but the answer may be more complex than you think, so be sure to ask it. You may have suffered from back pain for a long time. It might be debilitating enough to keep you from everyday activities. Most surgeons will suggest conservative methods like physical therapy and pain management before recommending surgery. Generally speaking, if surgery is recommended, it means less invasive options have failed. If surgery is the only viable option left  to get you feeling better, your surgeon will most likely recommend a procedure to improve the specific issue you are having. Again, something you should know prior to surgery. 

2. Can the procedure be performed in a minimally invasive way? 

Minimally invasive surgeries are becoming more common as technology continues to progress. You may be surprised at the number of surgeries that can be handled in this manner which is often preferrable due to less recovery time.  Depending on the type of surgery you are having, a minimally invasive procedure might be an option for you. Microdiscectomy is a common surgery that can be performed using minimally invasive techniques, as well as a lumbar fusion--depending on the severity of your case. If your procedure cannot be done in a way that is minimally invasive,be sure to ask about recovery time as it may be longer. 

3. How many of these procedures do you perform in a week? In a month?

This question will give you a good idea of the surgeon's experience and whether or not the doctor has expertise on the  type of back or neck surgery you need. This information can help you make informed decisions about your care. Depending on the demographics of the area where your surgeon practices, he or she may see cases like yours more often than other types of cases. Hearing a surgeon admit, “I perform this surgery all the time with excellent results!” can be a very reassuring thing to hear.

A patient reviews images with her surgeon prior to back surgery4. What are your surgical outcomes for this procedure in a patient like me?

Improved quality of life is major reason why a surgeon would suggest back surgery for you. Knowing about expected outcomes is just as important as knowing why the surgery is being recommended. It is unlikely that a surgeon would suggest you undergo a particular procedure if your quality of life would not be moderately to greatly improved.

5. How soon can I expect to return to work, golf, gardening, and other activities I enjoy?

It's important to know how soon you can resume regular activities plus asking this question gives you a timeline for your recovery and a date to look forward to on the calendar. Being complaint with the steps necessary for making a full recovery is the fastest way to get back to what you love doing best.