There may be alternatives to spinal fusion surgery, depending on your condition.
Most doctors recommend spine surgery as a last resort, after back pain or referred pain has become chronic, or after trauma. Although most people experience some improvements after surgery, there’s a risk of the surgery not being effective. For some people, spinal fusion surgery has side effects and may even make the problem worse.
Your doctor may recommend surgery sooner if pain is severely limiting your activities or if you have neurological complications. However, for many people, back and neck problems, even ones with obvious mechanical causes, like a degenerated disc, improve without surgical treatment.
If you want to avoid or delay surgery on your disc, have a think about these nonsurgical procedures and methods you can try first in consultation with your doctor.
Things you can do yourself
There are several things you can do yourself to help relieve back pain. They include short rest, learning to do things differently so that you avoid pain, a program of exercise, losing weight, using a TENS machine, mindful meditation and using hot and cold packs. Complete bed rest is no longer recommended for most types of back pain. Learn more about the things you can do yourself.
While medications may relieve pain, they don’t address the actual cause. Some of them are only available on prescription from your doctor. Some can be used on a regular basis, while others are only suitable for short-term flare-ups. The main types of medication for back pain are painkillers, antispasmodics, antidepressants, and steroid injections. Learn more about medications.
Advice from the experts
Back and neck problems are so common and difficult to treat that medical professionals have developed many different ways of managing them.
Your GP can help you with medication, imaging and referrals to physiotherapists, occupational therapists, specialist doctors and surgeons.
Many people also seek independent advice from chiropractors, osteopaths, acupuncturists, massage therapists and psychologists. Learn more about how health professionals can help.
There are several non-surgical interventions (or less-invasive surgical interventions) that can help with back symptoms, including a pain management program, neurotomy, a spinal cord stimulator, an intrathecal pain pump, and more. Learn more about non-surgical interventions.
A back brace for scoliosis
If you have scoliosis (sideways curvature of your spine), you may benefit from a back brace. If you haven’t stopped growing yet, and the angle of your scoliosis is less than 45 degrees a back brace can be effective in stopping the scoliosis from progressing. You’ll need to wear the brace for most of the day for it to be effective.
Disc replacement surgery
Disc replacement surgery is a newer surgery compared to spinal fusion surgery. If your problem is due to a degenerated disc, it may be an alternative to spinal fusion.
Studies show slightly better outcomes with disc replacement surgery than with spinal fusion surgery — but the difference is minor and the risks are comparable. People with a degenerated disc are slightly more likely to say they’re satisfied with their surgery after disc replacement surgery than after spinal fusion. Because this is a new surgery, long-term results from disc replacement surgeries are lacking.
Disc replacement may not be an option if you have instability in your spine, if your facet joints are significantly degenerated or painful, if you have osteoporosis or if you have infection.