Spine surgery can be understandably anxiety-inducing, especially if you aren't sure what to expect before, during, and after the procedure. Being fully informed can ease some of that anxiety and better prepare you for what lies ahead.
Odds are you already have a few questions of your own, but we have created a list of frequently asked questions to help point you in the right direction. Here are 13 questions to ask your spine surgeon before surgery for a herniated disc:
1. How many times have you done this lumbar discectomy procedure?
You want to make sure you’re in expert hands, so it’s important to know about your spine surgeon’s experience performing similar procedures. Don’t be afraid to ask your provider about their background before your discectomy surgery. Learn how often they perform discectomies and about their specialty training and ongoing education to ensure you’re choosing a knowledgeable spine surgeon you can trust.
2. What is the condition of my other lumbar discs?
Anyone with a herniated disc is immediately going to ask one question: Can I expect it to happen again in the future? When you meet with your spinal surgeon, ask them about the condition of your other lumbar discs and where you land in the spectrum of spinal disease. If any discs are at high risk of herniation, are there proactive steps you can take to prevent it from happening?
3. Have we exhausted all appropriate nonsurgical treatment options?
Nobody wants to undergo surgery if it isn’t absolutely necessary; however, in many cases, it’s the best option for correcting a herniated disc. That said, it’s certainly not the only option, and some nonsurgical treatment options can be very effective as well. When you meet with your spine surgeon before your discectomy, they can fill you in on whether surgery is the best option and if you’re a candidate for nonsurgical treatments.
4. Can you provide me a step-by-step description of the discectomy procedure?
You’re bound to have questions about the discectomy procedure and the technique your spine surgeon plans to use to correct your herniated disc. Ask your surgeon for a walk-through of the surgical plan. For example, will your discectomy be aggressive or limited? What does each approach involve? How does it correct the problem?
5. What are the common risks associated with discectomy, and what role can I play in minimizing them?
While discectomies are usually safe and effective, no surgical procedure is completely without risks. Your spine surgeon can walk you through the common risks associated with discectomies, such as reherniation, pain, and bleeding.
6. What are my chances of experiencing reherniation?
Reherniation is the most common complication that patients experience and typically requires repeat surgery to relieve renewed symptoms. However, some patients have a higher risk of reherniation than others. When you meet with your spine surgeon for a consultation, ask them what your chances are of experiencing reherniation and if anything can be done either during or post-surgery to minimize this risk.
7. How can I prepare for my discectomy surgery?
The steps you take before your surgery can go a long way in improving your comfort and results. Your surgeon will walk you through the different ways you can prepare for your discectomy. For example, should you stop taking any medications or supplements? Will you require preoperative testing or medical clearance? Do you need to stop smoking?
8. When can I go home after my discectomy surgery?
Most patients can return home on the same or next day as discectomy surgery; however, there are occasional exceptions that depend on the surgical facility, surgeon, and severity of your condition. Learn how long you can expect to wait to be discharged after your surgery so you can make arrangements to return home.
9. What is the discectomy recovery process like?
Naturally, you’re going to have questions about the discectomy recovery process: How long does it take? When can you return to work? Will you be in pain while you’re healing? Will you require physical therapy? Ask your spine surgeon for information on what you can expect and how to maximize your recovery for optimal results.
10. Are there any limitations during my recovery period?
After your discectomy surgery, you’ll need to take it a little easier than usual and restrict certain strenuous activities that have the potential to hinder your results. Discuss what your limitations will be during recovery and how long they’ll continue. For example, how long until you can drive a car or get back to the gym?
11. How much pain will I have after surgery?
Anyone who is about to undergo surgery is likely to have questions about how much pain to expect after-the-fact. Ask your surgeon about managing pain during your recovery to ease any concerns you may have. For example, learn whether you’ll be prescribed any pain medication and what other steps you can take to ease your discomfort.
12. What is the follow-up protocol after discectomy surgery?
Find out what you can expect in terms of follow-up appointments after your discectomy surgery. Learning what to expect after surgery will help you manage expectations and prepare for what’s to come. Ask your spine surgeon who you can reach out to if you have questions after surgery, as well as how many times you can expect to come back for follow-up visits.
13. What results can I expect and how long will they last?
Your goal is to get the best possible relief of your leg pain and/or weakness, so it’s essential to learn what results to expect from your discectomy surgery. Will a lumbar discectomy completely relieve your pain from a herniated disc? An established spine surgeon can help manage your expectations and prepare you for the likely outcome of your discectomy.
It’s completely normal to be nervous and on the hunt for more information to give you peace of mind before spine surgery. Your surgeon is uniquely qualified to educate you on the procedure and address any concerns you have in advance. With your questions answered, you can move forward with your discectomy surgery without trepidation, find relief from chronic pain, and never look back. Below is a helpful guide to take with you to your surgeon consultation:
While this blog is meant to provide you with information to support your well-being while considering or waiting for spinal surgery, it is not intended to replace professional medical care or provide medical advice. If you have any questions about the information given, please ask your doctor, who is the only one qualified to diagnose and treat your pain and spinal condition.
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