Reasons for Avoiding Back Surgery & How to Find Relief


July 30, 2020

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek pain management treatment. It is actually the most common form of chronic pain in the United States. When individuals are suffering with daily back pain, it is understandable that they would consider surgery to bring them some relief. However, surgery may not be the best option. Below are five reasons to seek out conservative treatments and avoid back surgery if possible. 

5 Reasons for Avoiding Back Surgery

Anesthesia complications

Any surgery comes with risks, and any surgery that requires anesthesia, particularly general anesthesia, has additional risks. Most spinal surgeries require general anesthesia where the patient is put to sleep completely and machines are used to control the patient’s breathing as well as monitor their vital signs. Some patients may have bad reactions to the anesthesia drugs that are used. Certain conditions including high blood pressure, obesity, sleep apnea, diabetes, heart problems, or respiratory problems can also increase someone’s risk for adverse effects with general anesthesia. 


Deep vein thrombosis


When blood clots form in the veins of the legs it is known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). When DVT is present the normal blood flow of venous blood from the legs back to the heart can stop. This can cause multiple problems. First, pain and swelling in the leg with the clot will occur and become chronic if the clot does not dissolve. Second, if the clot does break apart, there is the risk of a portion of the clot traveling up through the veins of the leg and being lodged in the vessels of the lung. This is referred to as a pulmonary embolism which can lead to death.  The risk of developing DVT is significantly higher following surgeries that involve the pelvis or lower extremities. 

Spinal cord injury


Any time an operation is done on the spine there is a risk of injuring the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a column of nerves that control all bodily movements. The spinal cord connects the brain to the rest of the body. Damage to this can possibly result in different forms of paralysis. 

Pseudoarthrosis and failed fusions


Spinal fusions can be done for a variety of reasons but the procedure itself rarely varies. The surgeon joins two adjacent vertebrae together to form one single unit. Although these procedures are common in regards to back surgeries, pain is typically decreased by only 50% and those results may only last for a few years before the pain worsens again. Some patients may also experience pseudoarthrosis. This term is used to describe an attempted fusion that has not been successful. When there is motion between the two bones that should be fused together, patients may experience ongoing pain. Additional surgery may be required to correct this issue. 



There is a risk of infection with any surgery. Infections are rare in spinal surgeries but still present as a risk. Infection could be superficial, meaning it would only reside in the skin where the incision was made, or it can spread deeper. When the infection spreads around the spinal cord and vertebrae, the surgical wound becomes swollen, hot, and red. Patients with infection may develop a fever and/or chills. When infections spread in this way it can be dangerous and additional operations may be necessary to drain the wound and possibly remove any metal hardware or bone grafts. 

How To Find Pain Relief Without Surgery

There are several ways patients can seek to relieve back pain without rushing to undergo surgery. The most basic, at-home treatments can be done regularly and are much more affordable than surgery! Using ice and heat to increase blood flow to the injured area and ease pain can provide relief. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen may also reduce inflammation and discomfort from home. 

Stretching and strengthening the back muscles and muscles surrounding the joints can also be beneficial. Physical therapists can provide detailed guidance and support in this area. 

Alternative treatments that are less invasive than spinal surgery include things like epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks for chronic pain, and spinal cord stimulators. All of these provide different levels of pain relief and have proven to have a high success rate. Read more about these types of procedures here.