Spinal surgery, like any surgery, is associated with certain risks. Unlike many other forms of surgery, however, the risks associated with certain forms of neck pain surgery can be severe and life threatening. Fortunately, there are ways you can minimize the risks of neck pain surgery.
Choose a surgeon who specializes in spine surgery
One odd, historical remnant of early medicine in the United States is that any licensed physician can perform any medical procedure, legally. That means, by the letter of the law, your family practitioner can perform brain surgery. Fortunately, professional discretion usually keeps this from happening. Family physicians do not perform brain surgery and neurosurgeons do not perform family medicine.
The line is not always so clear among surgeons within a specific profession. Orthopedic surgeons may perform spine surgery without having performed a spine fellowship. This is legal and perhaps even ethical, but it is not in most patients’ best interest. If you are contemplating spinal surgery, it is critical to find an orthopedic surgeon who has completed a spine surgery fellowship. This specialized training focuses solely on the diagnosis and management of spine conditions and diseases. People who complete spine surgery fellowships are uniquely equipped to perform neck pain surgery and other forms of spine surgery.
Many of the risks that occurred during and after surgery are in the patient’s control. For example, smoking is just about the worst thing you can do before surgery. It not only increases your risk of complications during surgery, but it directly interferes with healing in orthopedic and spine procedures. If you smoke, make sure you stop at least 30 days prior to your procedure (and, ideally, you should stop smoking entirely).
Know what drugs to hold and which drugs to continue during surgery
Some of the drugs you take on a daily basis can interfere with neck pain surgery recovery. If you take warfarin, for example, make sure to tell your surgeon about this because it can interfere with blood clotting. The same thing is true with aspirin, to a lesser degree. Some drug should be taken before, the day of, and after surgery, such as blood pressure medications. If you need blood pressure medication to control your blood pressure on a regular basis, the day of surgery is no different. In fact, it is very important to control your blood pressure during the procedure and recovery. The best way to determine what medications you should keep taking and which ones you should temporarily stop is to ask your neck pain surgeon at least a week before the procedure.
Healthier people do better after surgery
If you are considering spine surgery, chances are you are experiencing pain that limits your ability to do some forms of exercise. On the other hand, almost everyone can perform at least some form of exercise. We know from research and clinical experience that people who are more physically fit and healthy do better after surgery than those who are sedentary and had uncontrolled illnesses. Speak with your surgeon or primary care physician to find out which exercises are safe and effective in your particular situation (and then do them!).
Be Prepared for Proper Healing
Recovery after surgery can be as important as the surgery itself. Make sure you receive clear instructions from the surgical team and then follow those directions. Recovery after neck pain surgery is a balance between rehabilitation and not pushing yourself too hard. You want to give your spine the chance to heal, but you also want to make sure that the muscles and surrounding structures are kept in shape to prevent atrophy, weakness, and instability. Follow exercise and physical therapy guidelines very closely. Stay motivated to heal successfully, but do not push yourself to the point of injury.
Dr. Rovner and his surgical team would be happy to discuss the risks of neck pain surgery and provide more specific ways to minimize those risks.