How to Know When You Might Need Spine Surgery

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Your back is killing you, and nothing you or your doctors have tried seems to work. Is it time to consider spine surgery? Here are some signs that spine surgery might be right for you.

Spine surgery may sound like an extreme and risky measure. But with the right surgeon, it’s safe and effective — and it may be your best option for lasting relief. 

If you live in Southern California, you can put your spine in the best hands with Ali H. Mesiwala, MD, FAANS. With four locations — in Newport Beach, Marina del Rey, Rancho Cucamonga, and San Bernardino, California — working with Dr. Mesiwala to get to the bottom of your back pain is convenient, and it’s the best way to ensure you get an accurate diagnosis and have exhausted all conservative measures before opting for surgery.

As a board-certified neurological and spinal surgeon, Dr. Mesiwala specializes in complex procedures that require many years of experience and skilled hands, but he doesn’t recommend surgery as a first line of treatment unless you’ve suffered from acute trauma or you’re experiencing an emergency medical condition.

How do you know when it’s time to consider a surgical solution for your back pain and other symptoms? Here, Dr. Mesiwala takes a closer look at the signs that you might be a good candidate for spine surgery.

Conditions that warrant spine surgery

There’s a long list of things that can go wrong in your spine, from your neck to your tailbone, including fractures, infections, tumors, osteoarthritis, and degenerative disc disease. Most of these spinal conditions benefit from conservative treatment and a wait-and-see approach, but surgery may become necessary if the problem persists or progresses. 

Dr. Mesiwala talks with you about your symptoms, how long you’ve had them, what makes them worse and better, and what you’ve already tried to find relief. He delves into your personal and family medical history to get a better picture of your spine health. 

He also performs a thorough physical exam and runs relevant tests to reach an accurate diagnosis. From there, he either develops a treatment plan or uses his findings to inform his surgical procedure. 

Signs that you may need spine surgery

If you’re wondering how to know when you’ve reached the point where spine surgery is your best option, here are some signs to look for. 

Your pain doesn’t go away

Studies show that over the average lifetime, about 60% of Americans will suffer from low back pain and that most of them find relief from conservative treatment methods within the first month.

But when it doesn’t go away on its own or with the help of common treatments — such as physical therapy, lifestyle changes, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, corticosteroid injections, epidural nerve blocks, or radiofrequency ablation — chronic pain takes a toll on your physical and mental health. 

Persistent pain that doesn’t respond to more conservative treatments may warrant spine surgery.

You can’t move normally

You rely on the joints in your back to allow twisting, bending, and turning. If your spinal issues are preventing you from looking over your shoulder to change lanes while driving or bending over to tie your shoe, it may be time to consider spine surgery. 

Dr. Mesiwala can correct whatever’s inhibiting your ability to move with ease.

Your back pain shoots out to your arms or legs

When a problem in your back presses on a nerve, you can feel the effects anywhere along the length of that nerve, including in your arms and legs. This radiating pain is called radiculopathy, and it’s often the result of a herniated disc or a bone spur that’s compressing a nerve in your spine. 

Dr. Mesiwala may recommend a microdiscectomy to remove the bulging part of your herniated disc, or he may perform a discectomy to remove and replace the disc entirely. 

A laminectomy creates space in your spinal canal and may solve the problem if you suffer from spinal stenosis, a narrowing of your spine that pinches the nerves that travel in and out of your spinal canal. 

Your limbs are weak

In addition to shooting pain, compressed spinal nerves can cause other traveling sensations. You may notice tingling or burning in your arms or legs, which indicates a nerve is in trouble. 

Because nerves control your muscles, if they get pinched or damaged, your muscles get mixed messages or no messages and begin to malfunction, making it difficult to walk, lift things, or use your hands. Weakness and numbness in your arms or legs are often signs that you need surgical intervention.

It’s affecting your bladder or bowel control

Some of the nerves in your spine control your bladder and bowels, so if an injury or a condition like a herniated disc compresses those nerves, you may face some problems in (and out of) the bathroom.

Without the proper nerve signals telling your bladder and bowel when to release their contents, urination and defecation may be unpredictable. Spinal surgery can resolve this problem and restore your control.

To find out if you’re a good candidate for spine surgery, schedule a consultation with Dr. Mesiwala at any of our four Southern California locations today by calling the office closest to you or by booking online.