If you’ve recently had your upcoming spine surgery cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering what this means to you and what your options are.

Elective surgeries may be pushed back to free up medical resources to care for patients with more urgent needs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many spine surgeries postponed

The American College of Surgeons (ACS) has recommended that spine surgery, along with other elective surgeries such as hip and knee replacement, be considered Tier 2a, meaning that these surgeries should be postponed for the time being, if possible.1

The ACS has also advised that patients be evaluated on their need for surgery on a case-by-case basis, considering several variables including, but not limited to:

  • The severity of the patient’s condition and symptoms
  • The patient’s general health (including the immune system)
  • The individual surgeon’s and facility’s policies and approaches
  • The prevalence of COVID-19 in the local area

Ideally, most patients will be able to make a shared decision with their doctor.

For many, the pain from a degenerated disc, herniated disc, or other condition may be so severe that it doesn’t seem like an option to postpone a surgery that will likely lead to substantial, and possibly immediate, pain relief. When that is the case, ideally most patients will be able to make a joint decision with their surgeon based on what’s best for them.

See Specific Questions to Ask Your Spine Surgeon

Options if your surgery has been postponed

In addition to speaking with your surgeon, consider these potential options to alleviate your pain while waiting to find out about the timing of your surgery:

  • Consider an outpatient surgery center. Check if you can schedule your surgery at an outpatient surgery center, commonly called a Hospital Outpatient Center or an Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC). These facilities typically focus on elective surgeries, such as spine surgery or knee replacement surgery, and are not currently treating patients for COVID-19.

    See Outpatient Spine Surgery Considerations

  • Ask for prescription pain relievers. For severe pain, a prescription medication such as an opioid may be an option, particularly if it’s limited to a short time frame, for example, one to two weeks. Proceed with caution, however, as even a short course of opioids carries a risk of addiction.

    See Opioid Pain Medications

  • Keep up with physical therapy. See if your physical therapist is offering online and video sessions, or ask your doctor to recommend someone who does. It is important to keep up with physical therapy to the extent possible.

    See Physical Therapy Exercise for Pain Relief

  • Try an online consultation. See if your doctor is offering telemedicine or consultations via video connection. It is important that you keep in touch with your treating physicians as they know your situation and will be able to best advise you on your pain management options while waiting for surgery.

As a final piece of advice, don’t rely on general advice. Contact your surgeon to ask about any potential risk(s) in delaying your surgery. For some people, there’s a risk of nerve damage or other adverse outcomes if surgery is delayed, while for others surgery is more of a personal preference and will have a similar outcome over time when compared to physical therapy and other nonoperative treatments.

For emotional support any time of the day or night, consider joining in the conversation on this site’s Forums, such as the Surgery Buddies conversation (for those with upcoming surgeries) or the Chronic Pain discussion.

Learn more:

Pain Management for Chronic Back Pain

How to Prepare Psychologically for Back Surgery