Back pain is among the most common reasons for patients to seek medical care, with some estimates that as many as 80 percent of the population will experience lumbar pain at some point in their life.
Fortunately, most episodes of pain are self-limiting and resolve within 2-4 weeks.
Surgery is always the last resort when it comes to addressing low back pain, and depending on the anatomic issue being addressed, recovery times can vary widely.
Surgical outcomes can be drastically different depending on the condition of the patient before they undergo surgery.
Things like decreased muscle mass, obesity, having a sedentary lifestyle, smoking status and the presence of diabetes can all reduce the chances of a good surgical outcome to varying degrees.
To learn more about back surgery and recovery, I spoke with Dr. Tony Bozzio from Bay Street Orthopedics. Bozzio sees patients in Petoskey, Charlevoix, Rogers City and Gaylord.
MYM: How does a patient know when it is time to consult a surgeon about their back pain?
Bozzio: “In terms of back pain alone, there are several types and treatment can differ based on age. Any of the following should be evaluated sooner rather than later:
— Back pain which begins after injury, such as a severe fall or car accident
— Persistent pain in younger patients longer than a month or two in duration
— Pain which develops in elderly patients with osteoporosis due to the risk of compression fracture.
I try to see these patients within a few days to expedite their care and limit time in wheelchairs or being bed bound.
For the more generalized lower back pain that I think you are referring to, I think its time to see a surgeon when quality of life is an issue. If someone is unable to cope with lower back pain, they should see a spine surgeon for an opinion. A detailed history, exam, specialized x-rays, and MRI can give valuable information and help guide treatment.”
MYM: Are there any interventions that are considered before surgery is decided upon as the best option for relief?
Bozzio: “I tend to be very conservative for low back pain and use physical therapy extensively with good results. With certain types of back pain, injections can sometimes be helpful.”
MYM: What are some of the considerations that a surgeon reviews with the patient when deciding whether to proceed with surgery?
Bozzio: “There are two main considerations. The first is deciding if a surgery will solve the problem. The second is evaluating if symptoms are severe enough that quality of life is being impacted or if someone is unable to do the things they want to do or need to do. Then the risks of surgery have to be weighed against the benefits.”
MYM: What is the typical recovery time after surgery, and when can people get back to activities like skiing or cycling?
Bozzio: “Recovery all depends on the type of surgery and everyone is different. For smaller lumbar spine surgeries, the recovery can be weeks. For larger surgeries it can really take up to three to six months before people are back skiing and biking.”