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Is Back Surgery Necessary?

Updated on June 12, 2019
Pamela99 profile image

After 22 years as an RN, I now write about medical issues and new medical advances. Diet, exercise, treatment, and lifestyle are important.

Stabilization Rod


Causes of Back Pain

The second most common complaint your family doctor hears is about low back pain, and it is not always easy to diagnose the cause. The pain might be dull, sharp, burning or an ache.

Back pain will usually resolve within three months with conservative treatments. These treatments include: anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and ice or heat.

I have had two back surgeries due to osteoporosis from long term prednisone use that treated systemic lupus. I actually need a third surgery, but I do not want to go through another long surgery that takes a long time to fully recover. That is certainly not the case for everyone, as some people do quite well after surgery.

Back problems may occur for a multitude of reasons, such as: a sprain, fracture or an accident. Diseases causing back pain includes fibromyalgia, spinal stenosis, various auto-immune diseases or arthritis.

Osteoarthritis may cause bone spurs, which sometimes causes pain. Hinge joints on the back of the spinal column that narrow the space where nerves are located will cause nerve pain.

Bulging or ruptured (herniated) spinal disks may or may not cause pain, but pain will occur with pressure on a spinal nerve, which also affects its function.

Can Back Problems be Prevented?

There are several lifestyle choices and ways to help prevent back problems, including:

  1. Regular physical exercise eases muscular tension and reduces inflammation.
  2. Stay within ten pounds of your ideal weight. Extra weight, especially in your midsection, can shift your center of gravity and cause back pain.
  3. Stop smoking as it restricts the flow of blood to the spinal discs.
  4. Sleep in a good position. If you sleep on your side pull your knees up slightly, or if you sleep on your back put a pillow under your knees and one under your back. Sleeping on your stomach is hard on your back, so you might put a pillow under your hips.
  5. Good posture is important. A straight back chair is ideal or one with low back support. Stand with you head up, stomach pulled in and shoulder straight.
  6. Lift objects with your knees bent, without bending over and use your leg muscles, while holding the object close to your body. Never twist your body when lifting.
  7. Avoid high heels as they shift your center of gravity, so a 1” heel is ideal.
  8. Skinny jeans are a problem as they interfere with sitting, bending or even walking.
  9. Fat wallets in the back pocket may cause can cause discomfort, especially if you are sitting for an extended period of time.
  10. A handbag or a briefcase can be a problem, so the perfect design is similar to a messenger bag that has a strap on the opposite shoulder. Lighten your purse, and switch hands occasionally while walking.
  11. While back supports are readily available, but they do not help prevent back pain.

7 Simple Core Exercises That Prevent Lower Back Pain

When is Back Surgery Appropriate?

There are some back problems where surgery is the only recourse to relieve pain and sometimes movement.

These conditions include:

  • Spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal column putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves
  • A ruptured (herniated) disk when one or more disks of the spine are damaged
  • Vertebral fractures that are caused from an injury to the bones in the spine
  • Degenerative disk disease or damage, which occurs more often with aging
  • Rare causes include infection, a tumor or cauda equina syndrome (a nerve root problem)

Spinal Abnormalities


Back Surgeries

Minimally invasive back surgeries are used more commonly today, however, major back surgeries are still done frequently.

There are several newer techniques used over the past few years, but some major surgeries remain the same. The various surgeries include:

  • A discectomy treats a pinched nerve, removes a bone spur or the herniated portion of a disk and treats sciatica, which radiates pain through the limbs.
  • A foraminotomy procedure enlarges the tunnel in the back where the nerve root exits the spinal canal, to keep bulging disks or thickened joints from pressing on the nerve.
  • A kyphoplasty treats the removal of the bone overlying the spinal canal to relieve a compression fracture. This is an outpatient procedure.
  • A nucleoplasty (plasma disk decompression) is a laser surgery using laser surgery that uses radiofrequency energy. This surgery treats a mildly herniated disk.
  • A laminectomy enlarges the spinal canal by removing the bone overlying the spinal canal to relieve nerve pressure due to spinal stenosis.
  • A spinal fusion connects two or more bones permanently, which adds stability for a spinal fracture.
  • An artificial disk is implanted between two vertebrae due to degeneration or an injured disk

Dr. Matthew Neal: Minimally Invasive Spine Surgery

Recovery From Back Surgery

Patients are hospitalized for 1-4 days depending on which type of surgery and a patient's general health. There are typically stitches or staples on the incisions. The pain following back surgery can be significant, but it is treated while in the hospital. If you are on pain medications at home, do not drive.

Rehabilitation after most back surgeries is the best way to regain strength, but it will take at least 4-6 weeks for the back surgery to heal. It can take months following some major surgeries to regain your previous activity level, particularly if you are elderly.

There are some obvious times when you should call your doctor or for more severe problems call 911. Some of those times include:

  • The wound is leaking fluid or blood
  • Stitches start coming out
  • You have a high temperature
  • You have increasing pain, weakness and numbness in your back, legs or buttocks
  • A severe headache
  • Sudden shortness of breath
  • You can’t move your legs

Spinal Fusion


In Summary

Major back surgeries require good rehabilitation, and there are many things you must not do, like try to pick something up off the floor. All did not go smoothly when I had two 8 hour back surgeries only a few months apart, and recovery was difficult. Ultimately, I got my life back, but the recovery was difficult.

I know others who had a smooth recovery after back surgery and recover relatiely quickly. It never hurts to get a second opinion before proceeding wilh any surgery.

Back Pain Question

Have You Ever Experiences Back Pain?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2019 Pamela Oglesby


Submit a Comment
  • Miebakagh57 profile image

    Miebakagh Fiberesima 

    26 hours ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

    Hi, Pamela, it is well appreciated. Enjoy the weekend.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    46 hours ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi MG, I am glad you found this article helpful. Thank you so much for your your generous comments.

  • emge profile image

    MG Singh 

    47 hours ago from Singapore

    Nice article Pamela and very informative too. Though I never had back problem my brother in law has a chronic problem. Your article was a great help

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Pop, I am glad to hear that. Thank you for stoppint by and commenting.

  • breakfastpop profile image


    2 days ago

    I have had back problems that have resolved on their own without intervention. Frankly, the thought of back surgery scares me to pieces.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Miebakagh, I am glad you have no back problems as they can be painful. I am glad you found the article informative. Thank you for your comments.

  • Miebakagh57 profile image

    Miebakagh Fiberesima 

    2 days ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

    Hello, Pamela, thanks for sharing this informative and educative article. Although I had not experienced any back issues, I still do regular exercises that ensure I had a back free problem.

    All the preventive measures you outlined I have noted. Thanks for the videos demonstrating the exercises.

    I have noted that you have undergoes a back surgery and your recovery is very slow. But thank goodness, you do got your life back. I am sorry for the pains you felt. Enjoy your life at the moment.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I appreciate your nice comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Mel, After the age of 50 spinal stenosis is more like, and it does sometimes run in families. It can be in the lumbar or cervial area. Numbness or pain in the arms or legs is a symptom. I hope you won't have this problem, so do those stretches! Thanks for the question and commenting.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    2 days ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Thank you for sharing the information and your knowledge, Pamela. This is an interesting and educational article. I'm sorry that you've had problems with your back.

  • Mel Carriere profile image

    Mel Carriere 

    2 days ago from San Diego California

    I have had a few back problems, but nothing spinal, only muscular. My father had spinal stenosis, from which he made a nice recovery for a 80 year old guy. Is spinal stenosis hereditary? Great article!

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Ruby, I am so glad the article and the video were helpful as I think those stretches help. My daughter-in-law does them and has had no problem in a long time. I appreciate your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Gupi, I think the stretches and yoga are a great help to anyone. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Linda, I hope your husband does not need back surgery. I am sorry to hear about your friend with multiple surgeries and your pastor's daughter. That is an awful way to grow up. Thank your for sharing your stories as your stories are all too common.

  • always exploring profile image

    Ruby Jean Richert 

    2 days ago from Southern Illinois

    This is well worth the time it takes to read your informative hub, I watched the video on the seven back exercises and I'm going to do them this evening. I have back pain, especially this time of year. Window washing, spring cleaning etc. I used to sleep on my stomach. I now sleep on my side. It took a long time to get used to not sleeping on my stomach. Thanks again..

  • Gurpinder Vir Singh Rai profile image


    2 days ago

    This is a very well written article. I used to have trouble with my back but when I started practising yoga postures and stretches the pain went away. I also made other lifestyle choices such as improving my posture which helped. Anti inflammatory medication was helpful for me when I suffered the worst pain but I haven't needed to take it in years :)

  • Carb Diva profile image

    Linda Lum 

    2 days ago from Washington State, USA

    Pamela, I am sorry that you had such difficulties. My husband has not had surgery but needs to be very mindful of how he moves. He "throws out his back" very easily. I occasionally experience some pain in the lower back when I've spent too many hours kneeling in the garden, but no injuries.

    My heart goes out to those with chronic pain and back problems. I have a dear friend who has a degenerative disease that is affecting all of his joints. He has surgery on both shoulders, 2 hip and 2 knee replacements, and spinal fusion front and back. But he still greets every day with a smile on his face.

    My pastor's daughter was born with spina bifida and, at the age of 13 has just recently had spinal fusion after many years of multiple surgeries with the implant of rods that would have to be lengthened every 6 months. Hopefully, this fusion is her last surgery.

    Back pain is a problem that affects so many people and the pain is debilitating. Thank you for explaining this, and your recommendations for things that can be done to prevent back injuries.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Liz, I know they do successful surgery for scolitis. Thank you for your comments.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Flouish, I am sorry to hear about your sister, and it sure seems to run in the family (hope not for you). I am glad your dad did well, and thank you for commenting.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Clive, The answer is not, but there are individual discs that they are using now. I think those are fairly new.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    2 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi Bill, I know how bad back pain in, and back when you had that surgery they did not treat pain as well as they do now. I'm glad there you didn't have a repeat performance. Thanks for commenting.

  • Eurofile profile image

    Liz Westwood 

    2 days ago from UK

    This is an interesting and well-written article. Back pain is suffered by many to varying degrees. Some recover from muscular skeletal pain with anti-inflammatories and exercise. Other more severe cases require surgery. I know of friends whose daughter underwent surgery at a very young age for scoliosis. Thankfully she has not required any further intervention.

  • FlourishAnyway profile image


    3 days ago from USA

    Both my sister and dad have had back surgeries. My sister had a terrible time with it. The surgeon had to flip her over and cut her on both sides (abdomen and the back). It was very painful for her. My dad had an easier recovery and was especially determined not to use many pain meds for whatever reason. He could barely walk before and was all hunched over from pain but is now a new person. I’m sorry you had a difficult experience. I used to do workers comp and would sincerely caution people who seemed too eager to receive surgery as I had seen how difficult back surgery can be for people. It’s not always the magic solution people hope it will be.

  • Ericdierker profile image

    Eric Dierker 

    3 days ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

    Cha Cha Ching! Thank you. I have to work hard at "exercises" to prevent problems in what I call "down there". But after a bit you look forward to it. That video was/is excellent.

    I am of the mind that it is nature and not nurture. But both require strong commitment to stay good with or without surgery.

    (just a funny one - hernias - they actually are good for the back because you learn to move right or else ;-)

  • clivewilliams profile image

    Clive Williams 

    3 days ago from Jamaica

    Is there an artificial spine

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 

    3 days ago from Olympia, WA

    The only time I've ever been in a hospital as a patient, 1989, back surgery for a bulging disc. That pain was the worst I have ever felt. I couldn't walk...cried often...crawled around my apartment. Since the operation, no problems at all. Thirty years of no pain. I am grateful.

  • Pamela99 profile imageAUTHOR

    Pamela Oglesby 

    3 days ago from Sunny Florida

    Hi RTalloni, I am sorry to hear that. Osteoporosis was a good part of the reason I have had a rather poor result. What I have learned is to take vitamin D, K2 and calcium to strenghten my bones. I perhaps should mention this in my article. I get a lot of relief from an ice pack.

    A chiropractor is often very helpful, and my son sees one just occasionally for an adjustment due to back pain. I hope you can avoid surgery. A pain doctor can give you an injection that should relieve your pain for a period of time, but it does have some type of cortisone in it, which is not good for bones. I wish you a healthy back!

  • RTalloni profile image


    3 days ago from the short journey

    Thanks much for this information. Your nursing background and personal experience significantly add to this post. I am dealing with a small vertebral fracture located in a place causing a good deal of painful cramping. My chiropractor has already provided significant relief but am looking at an extended period of healing. Wanting to avoid surgery I plan to follow her instructions carefully. Primary care physician determined my vitamin D was extremely low so began taking prescription to bring it up, then will go back to over the counter D in two months. This was helpful info to me as I do not know how this will go and know I could face surgery in spite of efforts to avoid it.


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