The Risks and Benefits ofDegenerative Disc Disease Surgery
If you are considering degenerative disc disease surgery, thereare a variety of factors to be aware of before you consent toany procedure. First of all, most forms of intervertebral discsurgery are aimed at addressing nerve root compression orspinal cord compression that is being caused by acollapsed, herniated, or bulging disc. Surgery will not “cure”the degenerative disc disease itself, nor will it reverse or slowthe degenerative process.You should also bear in mind that in almost all cases, discsurgery should only be considered as a last resort after a widerange of nonsurgical treatments have been attempted. Even ifyou opt for a minimally invasive procedure, surgery is surgeryand it comes with risks as well as benefits.
Trying Conservative Treatments FirstThere is a wide range of conservative treatments options available for people who aresuffering from degenerative disc disease. The doctor who diagnoses yourcondition, whether it be your primary care physician or a spine specialist, will likelyprescribe an initial course of treatment they may include:• Prescription or over-the-counter pain medication• Physical therapy• Behavior modification• Stretching• Low-impact exercise• Cold/hot compressesIn the event that a combination of the aforementioned treatments is not effective atmitigating pain related to degenerative disc disease more targeted pain managementtechniques may be prescribed. In some cases, patients have also found relief with theuse of complementary or alternative therapies.
Types of Disc SurgeryIf you fall into the category of patients who areunable to find relief with nonsurgical treatmentsover the course of several weeks ormonths, degenerative disc disease surgery maybe become a consideration. There are generallytwo types of disc surgery available to patientswith degenerative spine conditions: endoscopicsurgery and open spine surgery.
Endoscopic Spine SurgeryEndoscopic spine surgery is typically performed as a minimallyinvasive, outpatient procedure. A small incision (usually less than one inch inlength) is made in the back or neck, through which an endoscope, a light, alaser, and other small surgical tools are funneled to the site of nervecompression. A portion of the nucleus pulposus (the pressurized inner discfluid that is pressing against or seeping out of a disc) is then removed in aprocess that is a bit like letting the air out of a tire. Once the affected pinchednerve is decompressed, the endoscope and surgical tools are removed and acouple stitches are used to close the incision. This type of degenerative discdisease surgery does not require a large incision or the dissection of softtissues, which means that there are generally fewer risks involved and therecovery process is much shorter than that of an open spine surgery.However, not all patients with a degenerative spine condition will becandidates for an endoscopic procedure.
Open Spine SurgeryThe other type of degenerative disc disease surgery that is available is open spinesurgery. This is a highly invasive procedure that requires hospitalization. A largeincision is made in the neck, throat, abdomen, or back, soft tissues are dissected, andthe damaged disc is removed in its entirety. Open spine surgery also usually involvesspinal fusion, which involves the permanent fusion of two or more vertebrae togetherwith a bone graft that is inserted into the space previously occupied by the damageddisc. Due to its high level of invasiveness, an open spine surgery involves an increasedrisk of complications like infection, nerve damage, and excessive bleeding. Therecovery period after an open spine surgery can often be long and arduous.When deciding between open spine surgery and endoscopic surgery, be sure toconsult with several surgeons about what type of procedure is best for you and why. Itwould also be in your best interest to ask spine specialists if there are any additionalconservative treatments that they would recommend that could prevent or delay theneed for surgery.