Surgery For Low Back Pain

Treatment Ratings


RISK: 2/5

One recent large study looked at 940 patients who underwent spinal surgery. 87% experienced at least one complication, and 14 patients died. They reported, “. The incidence of postoperative complication was 73.5% (wound complications, 13.5%; delerium, 8%; pneumonia, 7%; neuropathic pain, 5%; dysphagia, 4.5%; and neurological deterioration, 3%).”

Street JT et al. The Spine Journal, Morbidity and mortality of major adult spinal surgery. A prospective cohort analysis of 942 consecutive patients: January 2012Volume 12, Issue 1, Pages 22–34

Other studies have shown a risk of about 1:1000 patients for nerve root damage, and in in 10,000 patients can suffer bowel or bladder incontinence. More common side effects include leakage of cerebrospinal fluid (1 to 3 %) which will require the patient to lie flat for 24 hours, and infections (1%) which may require additional surgery and IV antibiotics.

Unless there is evidence of a progressive neurological condition such as new onset loss of bowel or bladder control, low back surgery is rarely an emergency event, even in the presence of severe pain. Studies suggest a majority of disc problems will improve over time. Some conditions, such as stenosis, may continue to get worse. 


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