Researching a spine surgeonFirst and foremost look for surgeons with:
- Medical credentials like are they board-certified or board-eligible
- Completed a fellowship in spine surgery
- Devotes at least 50% of their practice to spinal conditions
- Specializes in treating herniated disc/s and sciatica. This means they will have added/specialized knowledge and expertise.
- Spend adequate time with the individual
- Answer all questions
- Provide all information needed about the condition and treatment
- Listen to what the individual has to say
- Is open-minded
- Is not hard to get in contact with
- Has experience in the latest methods and techniques
What to look at and think aboutIndividuals can feel uncomfortable asking questions, but thorough communication is key. Remember, it is your body, and it is your right to know the details of the spinal disorder, along with non-surgical and surgical approaches to treatment that are available. There is time to consider the options and make an informed decision about the treatment plan as most spinal procedures are elective. Ask the surgeon all the questions you have to help decide wisely and with confidence. Make sure they address all concerns, and any others not listed.
The surgeon’s specialization/focusOrthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons perform spinal procedures. Each will have a specific interest and expertise in certain spinal condition/s. For example, some surgeons may specialize in treating adult or pediatric patients, and some may only treat either lumbar/low back or cervical/neck conditions. Within those groups, some focus on:
- Spinal deformities
- Myelopathy a spinal cord disease
- Specific spinal cord diseases
Minimal invasive surgery optionMinimally invasive spine involves tiny incisions, that reduces the recovery time needed to heal. With this type, individuals can be up and walking within hours after surgery. Unfortunately, not all conditions can take this approach.
Is the surgery absolutely necessary, or can it be treated non-surgically?Sciatica and herniated discs can be quite painful and cause disability. Never rush into surgery just to relieve symptoms. As surgery can cause other types of pain symptoms and issues. Herniation and sciatica can be resolved with:
- Physical therapy
- Lifestyle changes
- Diet adjustments
- Regular exercise
- Weight loss
The number of similar procedures performedThe surgeon’s experience is very important. The more experienced, the better. Ask if they can refer to other patients who have had similar procedures.
Recovery timeEvery patient is unique, as is the type of surgery, and recovery times. They all vary accordingly. General health, physical condition, and the severity of the disorder play a role in how long and how involved recovery time will be. Experienced surgeons can provide more specific answers concerning recovery/healing time.
Complication rateAll surgeries carry some risk of complication. Complication rates that are more than 10% is a red flag. Possible post-surgery complications.
Infection rateSurgeons should have an infection rate lower than 10%. However higher rates do not always mean that surgeon is at fault as higher rates can come from performing highly complex procedures. Another reason for high infection rates could be the patients themselves like smokers or individuals with diabetes have increased risks for infection. However, do not feel uncomfortable asking the surgeon to explain a high infection rate.
Decide to not opt for spine surgeryAs a surgeon produces a diagnosis, they should present a recommended treatment plan, including alternative treatments/therapies. Ask for another explanation of any part of the evaluation, diagnosis, or available treatment options.
Get a second opinionA second opinion should be encouraged. A second opinion can reinforce the surgeon’s recommendations and offers a new perspective. The surgeon should be comfortable with a second opinion. This does not mean that the individual does not trust the surgeon. It does mean that there is considerable interest in achieving optimal health and making sure that surgery is the absolute right thing to do. Pass on surgeons that discourage or disapprove of second opinions and continue looking.
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