Specific Questions to Ask Your Spine Surgeon

There are several questions you can ask a spine surgeon to help you more thoroughly understand your prospective surgery and instill confidence in your selection of a surgeon.

Questions before choosing surgery:

  • What is the specific anatomic lesion being addressed?
  • What is the natural course of the condition if left untreated?
  • Why does the surgeon recommend this specific procedure?
  • What are the alternatives to surgery?
  • What is the risk/benefit ratio (the chance of a bad outcome as weighed against the chance of a good outcome)?
  • Can I talk to other patients who have had a similar procedure?
  • What are the long-term consequences of the proposed procedure (if a fusion is being contemplated, will it lead to additional problems at the level above)?

Questions about the spine surgeon:

  • How many of the recommended procedures does the surgeon do a year?
  • Is the surgeon fellowship trained? (Note that this is especially important for a fusion)
  • Who will be assisting the surgeon?

Questions after electing surgery:

  • What will the procedure entail?
  • What are the risks and possible complications and how are they treated?
  • How will I feel after the surgery?
  • How many days will I spend in the hospital?
  • What is the expected postoperative course (such as physical therapy, time to return to work, return to full activity)?

At the first consultation, your spine surgeon should recommend a second visit, giving you time to think about your options and write down additional questions.
In general, your spine surgeon should be educational, describe the risks/benefits and possible implications of the surgery he/she is recommending, and state the reason for the specific type of surgery. If the spine surgeon is not open to your questions, you should consider choosing another surgeon.

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