Back pain often just disappears by itself over time, even if it’s been extremely painful for a while. It can sometimes take weeks or even months for the pain to go away completely, but if it does not get better and you develop chronic back pain you may be a candidate for back surgery.
Back pain is caused by damage to the nerves in the spine, which in turn is caused by any number of back-related problems, the most common of which include: a herniated or prolapsed disc (commonly referred to as a ‘slipped disc’), osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, or a bulging disc.
Spinal surgery is rare as most problems are resolved without such drastic measures, however in emergencies, such as sudden onset incontinence, or for people with progressive neurological function loss, back surgery can help. There are three ways that having an operation can help in treating chronic back pain conditions – by decompressing a nerve root or the spinal cord, by fusing a segment of the spine, or by helping to reduce the appearance of deformity, such as scoliosis surgery in the mid spine area.
If you’re one of the few people who need back surgery to solve the chronic pain in your back then you’re likely to undergo one of the following procedures:
Discectomy – this kind of back surgery is undergone by people who’ve experienced a prolapsed disc. Although in 90% of cases the problem will heal by itself, there is a minority of people who need surgery. Each disc that sits in between your vertebrae consists of a jelly-like substance contained within a tough outer shell. If this shell becomes damaged the jelly-like substance can spill out. This is called a prolapse, and can press on the surrounding nerves causing pain known as ‘siatica.’ During a discectomy operation all the remaining jelly-like substance is cleared away, leaving scar tissue to fill the space.
Lumbar laminectomy – for people who have stenosis this operation can help relieve the pain they feel every day. It involves cutting away some of the bone that’s causing the pressure on the nerves, giving the nerves more room and minimising everyday pain. Although the nerves may not completely recover from being previously squashed in 70%-80% of patients there is significant pain relief.