The time may come when all the exercise, acupuncture, pain relievers, and injections are no longer doing the job. You're in pain, all the time. At this point, you may be offered surgery or seek it out. That may seem drastic and scary, but pain and sleepless nights can be pretty persuasive. How do you decide?
Some operations are routinely more successful than others. If you experience pain that radiates from the back down into your legprobably sciaticathen your pain is likely caused by a herniated disk or stenosis (the narrowing of the spinal canal), compressing the nerve. Laser surgery used to decompress herniated disks is successful up to 90% of the time, by some estimates, while, according to a 2002 article in the Journal of the Southern Orthopaedic Association, surgery to treat stenosis is effective about 70% of the time.
Surgery for pain that comes from the lower back alone and is caused by degenerative disk diseaseordinary agingis often less predictable and successful. It can be difficult to determine the exact cause or origin of the pain, let alone to factor in the impact of social, psychological, and other factors that can exacerbate it.
The payoffs and tradeoffs
Studies show that recovery rates for surgical vs. non-surgical treatments have similar results. A 2005 study in the United Kingdom found that patients who had spinal fusion surgery reported roughly the same decrease in the amount of pain experienced during everyday activities (including sitting, standing, socializing, and traveling) as those patients who had intensive physical rehabilitation and cognitive behavioral therapy.