If your spine physician at the Southeastern Spine Institute (SSI) tells you that you need back surgery, it’s most likely that your symptoms and condition haven’t responded to more conservative treatments. In this case, surgery may be the best course of action to relieve your back pain. But before you submit to your surgeon’s recommendation for back surgery, you should fully understand the implications.
Asking questions does not mean you are questioning your doctor’s expertise. All surgeons want their patients to be knowledgeable about the procedure they’ve recommended. They also want you to know what to expect. Ask questions until you’re comfortable with the procedure, the surgeon and the facility. Here are the 10 most important questions to ask before your back surgery:
1. Why do I need this surgery?
Your back surgeon should be able to clearly explain what the procedure will do to correct your condition, whether it’s to permanently relieve your pain or to help you regain your range of motion. Ask about other treatments or alternatives to surgery. Your surgeon can list what you tried already that wasn’t successful, leaving back surgery as your only viable option.
2. What are the risks?
This is one question you absolutely have to ask. All surgery, no matter how minor, carries some risk. Many of the surgical procedures at SSI are minimally invasive, which reduces the risks. Know in advance what the risks are, how likely they are to occur and what complications may affect your recovery.
3. What will the procedure do?
Ask your surgeon to explain what he will do during the procedure. It’s often helpful to know the details of the procedure because then you can understand how it works to ease your pain or repair your spine. The way your surgeon speaks about the operation can help you gain confidence in him, too.
4. What if I refuse the operation?
All patients are given the option to decline back surgery; it’s never done against your will. But if you refuse, your pain won’t go away on its own. Your limited range of motion won’t improve suddenly. Your physician is recommending surgery because no other treatment has worked.
5. Can I get a second opinion?
Some decisions to have back surgery are fairly straightforward. Other decisions require thought to weigh the pros and cons. If your decision falls into the latter category, by all means, seek a second opinion. The staff at SSI will cooperate with any other spine surgeon to help you make your decision.
6. How many times have you done this procedure?
When you’re ready to proceed with the operation, ask your surgeon about his experience. Again, you’re not questioning his competence; you’re just asking how familiar he is with the procedure he’s going to perform on you. Your surgeon’s answer will ease your concerns and give you confidence in him.
7. Where will your surgeon perform the operation?
At SSI, all surgical procedures are performed in the state-of-the-art ambulatory surgical center (ASC). The ASC is outfitted with all the latest technology for conducting safe back surgery. Plus, having your surgery here saves you time, money and convenience. You don’t have to check in at a hospital, and the staff at SSI works together all the time.
8. Will I be unconscious during the procedure?
General anesthesia knocks you out while local anesthesia merely deadens the pain locally. Most back surgery is done with the help of general anesthesia. Ask about the anesthesiologist — in fact, ask to meet him or her beforehand. Ask about experience and training until you feel comfortable.
9. What about my recovery?
This is another absolutely required question to ask. Find out how long your recovery will take, whether you can recuperate at home and what limits you’ll face while you heal. Some back surgery requires extensive rest and then aggressive physical therapy. Make sure you know what to expect so that you can make the appropriate arrangements.
10. How do I pay for the operation?
Before you submit to back surgery, find out if your insurance company covers it. Ask about your co-pay. Find out what portion of the costs you will be responsible for. Paying for your procedure is nearly as important as being comfortable with having it done. Again, know what to expect, even financially, before you have the operation.