Spine Surgery Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are my risks from spinal surgery?
Risks and complications from surgery include: infection, bleeding, and any risks associated with general anesthesia. Procedures performed through the front of the neck have the risk of potential injury to the local structures, for example, the trachea, esophagus, and carotid arteries and some nerves. In general, spine surgery is performed in close proximity to the spinal cord and nerve roots. These structures could become injured and cause weakness, numbness in the limbs, or problems in the intestines, bladder, or sexual dysfunction. Serious complications from a procedure called a cervical discectomy are extremely low.

What does the surgeon do during spinal surgery?
The two main types of spine surgery are procedures which reduce or remove compression on the nerves, and procedures to stabilize the spine. Portions of the spinal bones (vertebrae) or portions of the disc (intervertebral disc) can be removed to alleviate the compression. For spinal stabilization surgeries; plates, screws, artificial discs, and other medical devices can be implanted into the spine during the procedure. Also, certain types of specialized cement can be injected into the damaged vertebrae to help correct and stabilize them.

How long will the surgery take?
The most commonly performed surgeries typically last from one to three hours. Studies show that when you get your surgical procedure in an Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC), you will, on average, spend up to one hour less in the operating room versus the same procedure in an in-patient hospital setting. This may reduce the incidence of complications from surgery.

How long does it take to recover from spinal surgery?
Recovery time depends on the type of procedure performed, the general health of the patient, and whether or not there were any complications from the surgery. In general, the recovery time can be from as little as one week for simple procedures to around 3 months for more complex procedures. Your physician will provide you with specific guidelines for your recovery.

Will I have any limitations after spinal surgery?
Right after surgery, you may be asked to refrain from doing any lifting, bending, or twisting motions. For patients who have had spinal stabilization procedures, especially with medical device implantation such as plates and screws, you may be limited in certain movements for several months. As a general rule, getting up and back on your feet doing light movements such as walking, will aid in your recovery time, as this keep the muscles working and helps your circulation. Your surgeon will instruct you on how and when you can return to daily activities.