Second Opinion on Spine Surgery: Rude or Smart?

"Would it be all right if I got a second opinion?"

Female Doctor speaking with male patientMost people don't dare to ask that of their spine surgeon. After the doctor recommends surgery to help relieve back or neck pain, patients may want to ask if they can get a second opinion, but few actually do.

Perhaps it feels disrespectful—the surgeon clearly knows what he's talking about, and it would seem insulting to second guess him.

But asking for a second opinion isn't second guessing; it's actually being a first-rate patient. It's taking a very active role in your treatment and recovery.

Spine surgery is a major operation, and deciding whether or not to have it is a very personal decision. Yes, the surgeon can recommend surgery, but the final go ahead comes from you. To help you make your decision, you should be as informed as possible. That includes asking your surgeon as many questions as you need to fully understand the procedure.

Beyond asking your surgeon questions, you can and should ask another surgeon for a second opinion.

There's one basic reason for that: in spine surgery, there are often different procedures or different approaches to treat the same condition. Your first surgeon may recommend traditional open back surgery, believing it will give him the best result. The second surgeon may recommend a minimally invasive approach, believing that a smaller incision will help him achieve the best result. It's essential for you to understand your options.

It's not that one surgeon is wrong and the other is right. It's that there are various ways to handle your pain, and it's important that you take an active role in figuring out the best option for you.

After getting a second opinion, you can talk to your first surgeon about what you learned. Discuss the pros and cons of the different options. Ask more questions if you need to. And when you're ready, you can make your surgery decision with confidence because you have been an involved patient.

Even with these reasons for asking for a second opinion, it can still be frightening to say to your spine surgeon, "Would it be all right if I got a second opinion?"

Really, don't worry about offending your surgeon by asking that question. As Dr. Chris Shaffrey, Professor of Spine Surgery at the University of Virginia, explains, "I enjoy having patients who are eager and interested to fully understand their pain and their treatment options. Honestly, I'm happy when a patient goes for a second opinion because it means that they're very serious about their treatment."

Your surgeon should respond like that. If he doesn't—if he perhaps even gets hostile—that might be a tip off that he's not the right surgeon for you.

So if you want it, go see another surgeon about your pain and possible spine surgery. In everyday life, you get a second opinion about the new car you want to buy, your haircut, and what movie to see—so when it comes to this very important decision about your body, it's a smart idea to get a second opinion.

Updated on: 01/19/16
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