There are several questions you can ask a spine surgeon to help you more thoroughly understand your prospective surgery and instill confidence in your selection of a surgeon. You can compare your surgeon's specific answers with the general overview of the surgical procedure provided in the Overview of Back Surgery.

Questions before choosing surgery:

  • What is the specific anatomic lesion being addressed?
  • What is the natural course of the condition if left untreated?
  • Why does the surgeon recommend this specific procedure?
  • What are the alternatives to surgery?
  • What is the risk/benefit ratio (the chance of a bad outcome as weighed against the chance of a good outcome)?
  • Can I talk to other patients who have had a similar procedure?
  • What are the long-term consequences of the proposed procedure (if a fusion is being contemplated, will it lead to additional problems at the level above)?

Questions about the spine surgeon:

  • How many of the recommended procedures does the surgeon do a year?
  • Is the surgeon fellowship trained? (Note that this is especially important for a fusion)
  • Who will be assisting the surgeon?

Questions after electing surgery:

  • What will the procedure entail?
  • What are the risks and possible complications and how are they treated?
  • How will I feel after the surgery?
  • How many days will I spend in the hospital?
  • What is the expected postoperative course (such as physical therapy, time to return to work, return to full activity)?

At the first consultation, your spine surgeon should recommend a second visit, giving you time to think about your options and write down additional questions.

In general, your spine surgeon should be educational, describe the risks/benefits and possible implications of the surgery he/she is recommending, and state the reason for the specific type of surgery. If the spine surgeon is not open to your questions, you should consider choosing another surgeon.

Find an integrated clinic in the Spine-health Spine Center Directory.

Dr. Theodore Goldstein is the Founding Director of the Cedars-Sinai Spine Center and an orthopedic surgeon with more than 40 years of experience specializing in spine care.