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?
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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.