When It Comes to Spine Surgery: Go with Your Gut

As a surgeon in practice for more than two decades, I can quickly identify people who come to me for surgical advice because someone told them they should, not because they truly believe surgery will be effective for them. Though this doesn't happen often, when it does, I take the time to have a candid conversation about how important it is to "Go With Your Gut," as the saying goes.

concept of person thinking with question marks above their headI could go on for hours, days even, about how effective minimally invasive spine surgery can be for the right candidate, but if that candidate doesn't truly believe they will benefit from it, a host of negative outcomes can arise. So, if you're considering spine surgery and are not quite sure whether you're making the right choice, here are a few questions and some advice that I hope will help you make the best decision—for you.

Is Surgery Your First Attempt at Addressing Your Spine Condition?

It shouldn't be. For most people, surgery should be a last resort for correcting a spinal condition. With today's advances in medicine and technology, there are a significant number of non-surgical treatment options to address a majority of spinal problems. Trying other alternatives first is important and gives you a better baseline for understanding what your body responds to before you set foot in a surgeon's office.

Did You Get a Second Opinion?

Medicine has specialty categories for a reason. If you've received the recommendation that surgery is your next best option for correcting your spinal condition, consider the source. Whether it's advice from a general or orthopedic practitioner or a surgeon, obtaining more than one opinion is a good idea.

First, it helps you feel as though you've done your homework. But more importantly perhaps, it can help you decided whether the practitioner you're currently seeing is open to having his or her recommendations reviewed by a peer.

If you have a doctor who is upset by your request for a second opinion, it may be time to consider switching doctors.

Are You Fully Informed?

Whether minimally invasive or not, spinal surgery is still surgery. Moreover, it requires of patients, not only their surgeons, a significant commitment to post-operative rehabilitation and management.

If surgery is the way to go for your condition, make sure you're fully informed and have all of your questions answered about the pre-operative, surgical, and post-operative elements of the procedure you're considering and the commitments you will be required to make in order for it to be a success.  Then think critically and realistically about whether these are commitments you will be able to make.

When applicable, I often encourage prospective patients to discuss the surgical experience and rehab process with patients who have undergone the same procedure. This can help give a sense of "what to expect and when to expect it" that is better than any advice a surgeon can directly give.

Do You Believe in Your Surgeon?

Though I've saved this one for last, it is by far the most important.

After you've done your due diligence and answered the above three questions to your satisfaction, the decision to undergo surgery really boils down to whether you believe the surgeon you're considering is the best one for the job.

Does he or she have the credentials and track record you want in a surgeon? Can you speak with him or her candidly and honestly? Is he or she able to answer your questions clearly, even if it's the 10th time you've asked them, without annoyance or hesitation?

Yes, most of us spine surgeons perform successful surgical procedures on a daily basis. But that doesn't mean we should treat your case as though it's just another in the stack. Each person is as unique as the way their spinal condition and lifestyle factors present themselves. The right surgeon is the one who treats yours as if he has thought it through critically and is making the best recommendation for your unique needs.

Though this is by no means a complete list of questions you should consider asking before deciding whether spinal surgery is the right next step for you, I hope it is a good foundation for starting off.

Of course, even when you're not 100% certain of your decision, go with your gut. The health of your spine is far too important to make a surgical decision lightly or without complete conviction that it is the right, best and most appropriate decision—for you.