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When is spine surgery the right choice?

 In Ask an Expert, Orthopedics, Pulse Blog

Q: Is spine surgery the right choice for me?

There’s no such thing as a minor spine surgery, so the decision to proceed with spine surgery is a major decision. Spine surgery exists because, despite its risks, it can dramatically improve the lives of patients. Surgery can alleviate and sometimes end debilitating pain and enable patients to move freely again.

However, spine surgery has several risks that can be minimized but never completely eliminated. These risks include bleeding, infection, injury to blood vessels and nerves, need for additional surgery, lack of resolution of symptoms, and anesthetic complications.

In almost all cases, spine surgery should be the last resort and performed only after all other treatment options have been exhausted. However, there are a few exceptions. If a patient is experiencing neurologic deficits such as weakness of the arms or legs or difficulty with urinary or bowel function, an earlier surgical intervention can help improve these neurologic deficits or prevent them from worsening.

Whether or not to move ahead with an operation is ultimately a personal decision that’s best made with the advice and support of a surgeon whom the patient trusts.

—Nelson Saldua, MD

Dr. Nelson Saldua is an orthopedic surgeon with specialty training in spine surgery at Vancouver Clinic. He believes that honesty and communication are essential to the doctor-patient relationship.

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