When Should You Have Surgery for Low Back Pain?

by Jsantos, October 25, 2017

When Should You Have Surgery for Low Back Pain?

Up to eighty percent of all Americans will experience back pain at some point. Of course, there are varying degrees of back pain and many different causes. If you’ve recently injured your back lifting boxes while moving, you probably don’t need to consult a surgeon – you just need rest!

But what do you do when you feel like you have “tried everything” and you’re still experiencing low back pain? Before you seek out a back surgeon, make sure to speak with an orthopedic or spine professional about options. They may recommend:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation (like ibuprofen)
  • Visiting a chiropractor
  • Physical therapy
  • Yoga or stretching
  • Massage and other gentle therapies

You may also need an X-ray or other imaging to find slipped discs, pinched nerves, or vertebrae damage. From there, your surgeon will decide if surgery is right for you.

Low Back Surgery as a Last Resort

Because spinal surgery can be pretty invasive, it is generally a last resort. Of course, if you’ve somehow broken a lower back vertebra or have a severely-degenerated disc, doctors will have no choice but to operate.

If you have visible (via imaging) structure problems in your lower back, like severe scoliosis or a slipped disc, that is generally the only time that surgery is recommended. If nothing appears on imaging scans, most surgeons will not want to operate. Trying all other methods of treatment before surgery is the best option unless there is a direct cause of low back pain.

Pain that may be caused by structural issues in the spine include sensations like:

  • Nerve pinching
  • Pain in legs
  • Muscle cramps
  • Sciatica pain
  • Tailbone sensations

Of course, everyone experiences pain differently. If you are not able to manage your pain with medication, physical therapy, and rest, a surgeon should be consulted.

What to Expect From Low Back Surgery

Depending on the type of surgery you have, whether a fusion surgery, laminectomy or diskectomy, the recovery time can be extensive. Your spine is the support for your entire body, so it has to take time to heal properly or the issue won’t resolve.

Because each surgery is different, you may be looking at 3 to 12 months before you’re “back to normal” and experiencing no pain. Direct recovery takes about 3 to 6 weeks before you recover from the surgery enough to go back to work. Of course, this varies for each patient and will need to be cleared with your surgeon and medical team.

Deciding on Low Back Surgery

Surgery is an option for a variety of problems, but it is the individual’s job to decide when he or she is ready. If you know that no other options have worked for you, and you’re in a lot of pain, it’s time to talk to a surgeon. If you’re not ready for surgery – barring massive trauma and immediate need – there are plenty of options out there.



Orthopedic Corner | Leon Mead MD Orthopedic Doctor | 730 Goodlette Road North, Suite 201  Naples Florida 34102 | Phone: (239) 262-1119

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