Why do some people say low back surgery does not work?

By: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

So, in orthopaedic surgery, we're consistently making people better by fixing things. In spine it's a little more complicated because people who have certain types of spine problems can do very well with surgery but it's not everyone and that's why there's some confusion. So people who have a disc herniation where a piece of disc breaks out of the spine and irritates one of the nerves and the spinal column can have very bad pain down the leg and 90% at a time if that person has not gotten better with non-operative treatment they'll get better with an operation to take that fragment out through an operation called a microdiscectomy. Now for people who are older, those people will get arthritis and the arthritis can sometimes make the spinal canal very small and pinch the nerves.

And, those people can have horrible problems not being able to stand and walk because they get symptoms that go into their legs with tightness and heaviness. And, we know that with spine surgery more than eighty percent of the time those people will get relief of those leg symptoms just by decompressing the spinal canal by taking bone away and freeing up the nerves. And, there are also people where a fusion can also be helpful for example people who have an instability problem where one vertebra begins to slip forward on another those people can have very bad narrowing of the spinal canal and can also get not just the leg symptoms from that but also back pain and that back pain can be helped as well as the leg pain with an operation where the spinal canal is opened up and those two vertebra are stabilized together with a fusion to address both the back pain and the leg pain. And, those people are usually very happy and there's really good NIH funded studies that show that out to ten years people get better and stay better with that kind of spine surgery.

So, spine surgery really can help people who have low back problems but it depends on the diagnosis.

Why do some people say low back surgery does not work?

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