6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Having Spinal Surgery

6 questions to ask yourself before having spinal surgery

Spinal surgery is not a decision that anyone takes lightly. You’re considering a complex operation on a delicate part of your body. And while surgery can make a significant difference to your pain and ease of movement, it’s not a silver bullet. So, here are some questions to ask yourself before having spinal surgery. 


1. Do you understand what’s causing the problem?

Your spine is a complex structure of vertebrae, joints, nerves and discs. It’s important that you understand the structure of your back and the particular condition you’ve been diagnosed with.  

If it’s not yet clear what’s causing your back pain, then keep pressing for a diagnosis. Seek a second opinion from a different doctor if necessary. Once you have a diagnosis, you can consider the appropriate treatment options including weighing up the pros and cons of surgery.


2. How is it affecting your life?

Living with back pain can be painful and debilitating. It may affect your job performance and limit your social life. Maybe it’s now too uncomfortable to travel in an aeroplane seat, go on a long drive to visit the family or sit through a play at the theatre.

So, ask yourself what impact is your spine condition having on your life? Look back over the last few weeks. Were there any invitations that you declined or appointments you cancelled due to your back pain? Did you miss any days of work or study? Was your sleep affected?

If your back pain is reducing your quality of life, then maybe it’s time to think about surgical options. 


3. What other treatments have you tried?

Some conditions can only be treated by spinal surgery. However, in most cases, it’s wise to start with conservative treatments first. That may include physiotherapy, medications or injections. 

In many cases, conservative treatment leads to a significant improvement in symptoms. However, if you’ve been diligent with your physiotherapy exercises and have taken your medications regularly yet are still experiencing debilitating back pain, it may be time to consider surgical treatments.


4. What are your goals?

Back in question 2, we asked you to think about how your back pain was affecting your life. This question links to that one. What do you hope the surgery will achieve? What are your goals?

Maybe you want to get back to your favourite sport, play backyard cricket with your kids or have the flexibility and strength to complete a DIY project you’ve started. Maybe you need greater mobility because you have a physical job. Or perhaps you have to sustain several hours a day in front of your computer for your work.

Whatever they might be, it’s helpful to articulate your hopes for surgery. Then you can ask your surgeon whether those goals are likely to be realised. It’s important to go into surgery with realistic expectations of what life will be like afterwards.


5. What surgery is being recommended?

There are many different types of spinal surgery. Ask your surgeon which operation is recommended for you and what it involves.

You may want to ask further questions such as:

  • What will the surgery cost?
  • How long will I need to stay in hospital?
  • What will my recovery involve?
  • What are the possible complications of this surgery?

6. Do the benefits outweigh the risks?

Every surgery, from the most simple to the most complex, involves some degree of risk. That includes risks such as infections, blood loss or a reaction to the anaesthetic or other drugs used. Each type of spinal surgery also has its own particular risks and benefits.

Your overall health also affects your surgical risk. Health factors that increase the risks of surgery include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Sleep apnoea.

Ask your surgeon about the risks and benefits of your recommended surgery.


How can The Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Service help?

At The Victorian Orthopaedic Spine Service, our care pathway is designed to ensure you only progress to surgery if you really need it. Wherever possible, we start with conservative treatments, hoping to improve your back pain that way.

If we do recommend surgery, we’ll talk you through it carefully, answering your questions and giving you time to consider the options. Please get in touch today.



All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks.

Dr David EdisAbout Dr David Edis

Dr David Edis is an Orthopaedic and Spine Surgeon. David’s areas of special interest include the management of adult spinal conditions as well as hip and knee replacements. He has extensive experience in all facets of spine surgery from simple to complex, covering cervical to lumbo-pelvic conditions. He is an active researcher and medical educator and believes in lifelong learning. He is constantly updating his skills and helping other surgeons.