This subject comes up a lot in our forums: "I'm considering surgery, what questions should I ask my surgeon?"
After consulting several peer reviewed articles on our site and listening in on our forum members, we've compiled a list that you can print and take with you to your consultation. Good luck!
- For further reading: Preparation Before Back Surgery
Questions before you decide to have the surgery
- What type of surgery are you recommending? Why?
- For more information, see Back Surgery and Neck Surgery Overview
Exploratory surgery is never done on the back.
The amount of information depends on your personal preferences. Some patients want to know everything, some not so much!
- View our (animated - no gore!) Spine Surgery Videos
- Read more about Non-Surgical Options for Pain Relief
For example, different risk factors like smoking, being overweight or having grade 3 spondylolisthesis, etc, will affect surgical outcomes.
For most types of back surgery, blood does not need to be donated ahead of time.
For example, will the operation ever need to be re-done? If it is a fusion, will it lead to degeneration at other levels of the spine?
Questions about the surgeon
- How many times have you done this procedure?
Generally, when it comes to surgery, "practice makes perfect," so more experience is better. However, if the doctor is recommending something that is not often done, such as multi-level fusions, more experience would not necessarily be better.
- Are you board eligible or board certified?
You can usually look on the wall and see a certificate.
- Are you fellowship trained in spine surgery?
This is more important if the surgery is a fusion, artificial disc replacement, or other more extensive procedure.
- If I want to get a second opinion, who would you recommend?
The recommendation should be someone not in the same practice.
- Statistically, what is the success rate for this type of surgery? What is your personal success rate, and how many of this type of surgery have you done?
- Can I talk to other patients who have had a similar procedure?
The patient will have to sign a HIPAA release form, but typically, happy patients want to share their success stories.
Any defensiveness on the part of the surgeon when you ask these types of questions may be a red flag. A surgeon with good results and appropriate qualifications will not be threatened by these types of questions and will respect your attention to these matters.
Questions about what to expect after the surgery
- What kind of pain should I expect after the surgery and for how long?
- Read more about Back Braces
- For more information: Back Pain and Sex
- Read more: Rehabilitation After Spine Surgery