About your back
Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae, which are essentially the building blocks of your back. These bones are cushioned by discs of tissue which act as shock absorbers. Your spinal cord runs through a channel in the spine, and it is here where nerves branch off to the rest of the body. Occasionally though, these nerves can become compressed and create pressure which can be very painful.
What is back surgery (spinal surgery)?
When one or more nerves in your spine are put under pressure they can cause pain; back surgery is usually performed to relieve some of this pressure. The type of back surgery recommended will depend on your individual needs, as there are several causes of nerve compression. These include:
- Disc prolapsed/herniation – more commonly known as a ‘slipped’ disc, this occurs when a disc of tissue bulges out between two vertebrae.
- Spinal stenosis – this happens when the spinal canal becomes narrow due to cartilage in the vertebrae becoming worn or inflamed.
- Spondylolisthesis – this is the name for when a vertebrae slips out of position.
What does back surgery involve?
There are different types of back or spinal surgery depending on the source of the back pain. During a back operation, a surgeon may perform more than one type of procedure if it is needed. Back operations are generally done under a general anaesthetic, which would mean that you would be asleep throughout the procedure.
What are the symptoms of nerve compression?
Pressure on the spinal nerves causes problems with the traffic of nerve signals to and from the brain. Compressed nerves can also lead to sciatica, which is usually seen with these symptoms:
- Pain in the lower back, buttock, leg and foot
- Pins and needles
- Muscle weakness and/or wasting
- Loss of sensation
What treatments are available?
Your surgeon will discuss with you which type of back operation is most suitable for your pain. The operation may be done by an open surgery – involving a large cut being made in the back – or a keyhole surgery which is done by using a thin and long microscope and other special instruments through several small incisions on your back. Commonly performed treatments include:
During this procedure, the centre of the disc that is affecting the spinal cord or nerve is removed; this relieves the pressure and the pain caused by the protruding disc.
- Nerve root or spinal decompression
The nerve root or spinal decompression method is done to remove any bone, disc tissue or other material that is putting pressure on the nerve or spinal cord areas.
- Spinal fusion
In this procedure, your vertebrae are joined together by metal implants, or bone taken from your hip.
Are treatments available on the NHS?
Surgery for chronic back pain is available on the NHS, generally after a series of treatments including a combination of painkillers or stronger medication, exercise, physiotherapy, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Spire Healthcare is able to offer back surgery to you privately, with a physiotherapist on hand to discuss exercising after the operation, and to help make sure you are comfortable.
Back surgery aftercare
The amount of time needed for recovery is dependent on the type of treatment undertaken. Generally you are required to stay in hospital for two to seven days to recover from the surgery described here. Your physiotherapist will be able to help you exercise whilst you are in bed, and then will be able to help you get up and down the stairs before you are discharged. Your consultant will provide you with more advice about back surgery aftercare.