Spine Health FAQs

  • Frequently Asked Questions About Spine Health and Spine Surgery

    You can find additional answers in our spine surgery video library

    What is the best exercise I can do for my back?
    Walking is the most recommended exercise for your spine before and after surgery. The natural motion of the trunk helps remove swelling and increases blood flow to the area.

    Can I do anything at home to decrease my back pain?
    Avoid activities that cause your back pain, rest when pain is starting to increase, use heat or ice as directed by your doctor, and perform any exercises given by doctor or physical therapist.

    What is minimally invasive spine surgery?
    A surgeon uses specialized instruments and techniques to perform an operation through an endoscope and smaller incisions. These techniques reduce blood loss, limit muscle body disruption, and minimize contact to nerve roots. Minimally invasive surgery may result in faster recovery times and a decreased risk of complications. It is important to note that not all procedures can be performed in a minimally invasive manner.

    When can I go back to work after spine surgery?
    This varies for every person based on their specific condition and job. This is a good question to discuss with your surgeon.

    How can I keep from having problems with my spine after surgery?
    We recommend four easy steps: follow the movement precautions given by your surgeon, wear your brace if your surgeon has ordered one, do not do anything that causes increased pain, and walk as much as you can tolerate.

    What is a discogram?
    A discogram is an X-ray that is taken after dye is injected into multiple discs. This will show your doctor what your normal discs look like and reveal any damaged discs.

    I was told I have a “bulging disc,” should I see a spine specialist?
    You should see a spine specialist only if you have a bulging disc accompanied by pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in one of your arms or legs.

    Are a bulging disc and a herniated disc the same?
    No. A bulging disc occurs when the toothpaste-like center is forced out into the ligamentous shell of the disc. A ruptured/herniated disc occurs when that “shell” is broken and the toothpaste-like material leaks out of the disc into the surrounding tissues.

    How can my back or neck be the cause of my leg or arm pain/weakness?
    The spinal column encases the spinal cord, which gives rise to nerve roots. As these nerve roots exit the spine, they can become pinched or pressed by bulging discs and bone spurs, or just not have enough room to exit due to spinal stenosis. When these nerves exit the spine, they travel to the legs and arms to allow us to feel and control our muscles. That is why you can feel pain in your legs and arms from back and neck problems.

    If I am not a candidate for surgery or I have already had back surgery and still have chronic back pain, who can help me?
    We recommend that you ask your primary care physician to refer you to a pain specialist. This is typically a physiatrist or physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor who specializes in the treatment of chronic pain conditions.

    What signs and symptoms should I watch for to know my condition is getting worse?
    Numbness, tingling, or weakness that spreads into the arms or legs should be reported to your doctor immediately. You should also report a change in bowel or bladder control. Unsteadiness when walking could be a sign of pressure on the spinal cord and often comes with a bulging disc in the neck. Any of these symptoms may be a sign that irritation to one of your nerves is worsening.

    Do I have to quit smoking before my spine surgery?
    It is highly recommended that patients quit smoking before spine surgery. Our bodies require blood to supply nutrients and oxygen to areas that are healing. Our spine has a relatively poor blood supply compared to other bones. Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen available in our blood and nicotine constricts the blood vessels limiting the amount of blood that can get to areas that are healing. In addition, Memorial University Medical Center (MUMC) is a smoke-free campus. Smoking is not allowed indoors or outdoors on any MUMC properties.