understanding the risks of spinal surgery

More people here in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation are becoming committed to living healthier lifestyles. For some this means making a conscious effort to eat better foods while for others it also means incorporating more exercise into their daily routine.

While this focus on self-improvement is laudable and will undoubtedly translate into a reduced risk of developing certain medical maladies, there are still certain health issues from which even the most health conscious people can’t protect themselves entirely.

For instance, consider back injuries. The simple truth is that people of all ages and physical conditions could find themselves similarly felled by back sprains, herniated discs or even spinal fractures, and facing the same uncertain future.

While a regimen consisting of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, ice, compression and rest, or even extensive physical therapy may prove effective for many back injury sufferers, there are others for whom the only real option is undergoing back surgery.

This option, however, is not without its risks.

By way of illustration, consider a few of the more common types of back surgeries that while largely beneficial can still prove problematic.

  • Spinal fusion surgery: This procedure involves a surgeon joining the vertebrae together in an attempt to limit both the motion between them and the stretching of spinal nerves. The risk here is that the vertebrae will not fuse completely.
  • Laminectomy: This procedure involves a surgeon actually removing sections of bone, ligaments or bone spurs in an attempt to alleviate pressure on the surrounding spinal nerves. The risk here is that the procedure may actually compromise the stability of the spine, perhaps necessitating spinal fusion surgery.
  • Disc replacement: This procedure involves a surgeon removing a damaged disc from between the vertebrae and replacing it with an artificial disc that is designed to enhance mobility. The risk here is that the artificial disc inserted during the procedure, which is touted as an alternative to spinal fusion, could somehow loosen or break down.

These certainly aren’t the only spinal surgeries to present certain risks. Indeed, foraminotomies, discectomies and interlaminar implant procedures also present their own set of possible complications.

What matters in all these procedures is that the surgeon provides the patient with information on all of the possible risks and, wherever possible, recommends safer, non-surgical alternatives. In fact, if they fail to do this and a serious injury like paralysis results, patients may be able to hold them legally accountable.

Source: Web MD, “Back surgery: Risks and benefits,” Accessed Jan. 29, 2015

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