How to Know When It’s Time for Spine Surgery

Back pain can’t be ignored, as anyone who has experienced it can tell you. It impacts people in different ways, and often times it will resolve on its own with non-surgical care and treatment. But what about when it’s a back condition that does not get better with rest and time? Does this mean you’ll need spine surgery? How can you be sure?  

Good News: Most Back Pain Does Not Require Surgery

If you suffer from back pain that doesn’t go away after a couple of weeks, it is best to schedule an appointment with your family doctor or primary care physician for an evaluation. This might also include an x-ray and/or an MRI scan to evaluate the spinal anatomy - the bones or vertebrae for alignment, the intervertebral discs for degeneration and herniation, and the facet joints for arthritis. Based on the clinical and imaging findings, non-surgical treatment is usually tried first and may include medications, physical therapy, at-home exercises, and spinal injections.

Most of the time these approaches are successful in minimizing or alleviating the back pain. However, in some cases, the condition and resulting pain worsens, and can only be relieved with spine surgery. Your doctor can talk to you about the options and refer you to a Spine Surgeon. (You may also be interested in reading our post about the difference between an Orthopedic Surgeon and a Neurosurgeon.)

Signs That Indicate You Might Need Back Surgery

Some signs that indicate it’s time to consider spine surgery can include:

  • Pain that is persistent and progressive. If the pain caused by a back condition lingers beyond a few months and/or appears to be getting progressively worse.

  • Numbness, tingling, weakness. Numbness, tingling, and/or weakness felt in areas such as the arms or legs are often caused by compressed nerves in the spine. Nerves can become compressed for various reasons, including a herniated disc or bone spurs.

  • Bladder or bowel issues. Sometimes, bladder or bowel issues can accompany back pain from pressure on the nerves supplying function to the bladder and bowel. This could be the result of spine conditions such as a disc herniation or spinal stenosis.

  • Degenerative spinal condition. Back pain caused by degenerative conditions like spinal stenosis or spinal arthritis. This may manifest as spinal deformity and/or spinal instability on imaging studies.

  • Decreased quality of life. Pain and lack of mobility can significantly impact how one functions day-to-day, and the overall quality of life. If your back problems are limiting your ability to participate in life, surgery could help, and you may want to seriously consider it.

When to Contact a Spine Surgeon

Even if you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that you need spinal surgery. Dr. Fayaz recommends that you first visit with your primary care provider to discuss possible causes and non-surgical solutions to your back pain. 

If the pain continues, and your doctor has confirmed the diagnosis through imaging (X-ray or MRI), you can schedule a consultation with a Spine Surgeon such as a Neurosurgeon. Talking to a surgeon doesn’t mean that you’re committing to surgery. It’s simply a chance to learn more about the options you have to find relief.


Dr. Fayaz specializes in back procedures that can reduce pain. If you are in the greater Houston area, including The Woodlands, Spring, and Conroe, and you believe that you need to be seen by a Spine Surgery Specialist, contact us to schedule an appointment.