This page will guide you through your surgical journey from beginning to end. Its objectives are:
- To help prepare you for your surgery and hospital experience.
- To optimize your recovery from spine surgery while in the hospital.
- To prepare you for beginning and then, maximizing your further recovery at home.
At St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center, all our caregivers and service personnel are committed to performing with excellence. They compliment and support the outstanding surgical and medical staffs for which St. Joseph's is renowned.
You can help achieve optimal recovery from this surgery by becoming an active part of the St. Joseph's team before, during and after your surgery. Of course, the long-range benefit of your surgery depends very much on the success of your continuing rehabilitation at home. Therefore, we hope that you will continue to practice what the team has taught you long after you have left us.
Information About Your Spinal Condition
Low back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some point - both men and women equally. More than 15 million people suffer from recurring or long lasting back pain. In fact, after headaches and the common cold, low back pain accounts for the most physical pain and lost work time. There are numerous causes for low back pain, including muscle spasms, arthritis, herniated discs, deformities, infection and fractures.
To understand why you need spinal surgery and how to protect your back before and after surgery, you need to learn about your spine and how it functions.
A healthy spine performs two major functions:
- It protects the spinal cord which carries nerves to/from various parts of the body.
- It supports the body while allowing it to move, bend, sit, twist, turn and lift -- all freely and with comfort.
Twenty-four vertebrae (bones) make up the spine. They are connected to each other by discs made of cartilage. Each disk has a soft center (nucleus) surrounded by tough fibrous outer rings. They absorb pressure and allow the vertebrae to move.
The vertebrae and the discs connecting them are aligned in three natural curves: the cervical (neck) curve -- 7 vertebrae; the thoracic (behind the chest) curve -- 12 vertebrae; and the lumbar (lower back) curve -- 5 vertebrae. When these three curves are in their normal alignment, your body is in a balanced position. Your weight is distributed evenly through the vertebrae and discs so you are less vulnerable to strain and injury.
A balanced spine is simply "good posture." To maintain this balanced position you need to support your spine with strong, flexible muscles. Well-conditioned muscles are especially important for your lower back, which supports the weight of your entire upper body, thus putting it under constant, concentrated stress regardless of your activities.
Two vertebrae with a disc between them. But with or without well-conditioned back muscles, injury, arthritis or the natural aging process can cause the discs or vertebrae to press on the spinal nerves, causing symptoms such as pain, stiffness, tingling and numbness.
Meet our spine surgeons.
Typical Kinds Of Spine Surgery
For people with disk problems, the surgeon forms a "window" in a portion of the outer ring of the disc. Then the surgeon removes a portion of the disc nucleus, releasing the pressure on the nerve. Some surgeons perform a microdiscectomy, which may require removal of only a small portion of the lamina (part of the vertebrae).
For people with instability, the surgeon places a bone graft between two or more vertebrae to grow or fuse them together. The bone for the bone graft is usually taken from the bones of your pelvis at the time of surgery. These bones act as the cement that fuses the vertebrae together. Occasionally wire, rods, screws, or plates are used in addition to bone.
A laminectomy removes the entire lamina. Removal of the lamina allows more room for the nerves of the spine and reduces the irritation and inflammation of the spinal nerves. The lamina does not grow back. Instead, scar tissue grows over the bone, replacing the lamina, and protects the spinal nerves.
Your surgeon can describe your particular spinal operation to you. Please feel free to ask questions about what your surgery involves.
Typical Spinal Problems
Ruptured or Herniated Disc
Aging, worn vertebrae and discs allow bone spurs to form. This causes or worsens stenosis (narrowing of the spinal cord) and irritates the nearby nerve.
As a disc degenerates, it loses its ability to bounce back. The nucleus and outer rings of the disc bulge into the nerve, irritating it and causing pain.
As a disc degenerates and flattens, vertebrae slip back and forth. This irritates the joints and creates or worsens stenosis, irritating the nerve.
Pressure causes the outer rings of the disc to rupture and the soft nucleus to squeeze through. This compresses and irritates the spinal nerve root.
Q: Why do I need to bring my booklet back to the hospital on the date of my surgery?
A: There are exercises in the book that we will review with you prior to your discharge.
Q: How soon after my surgery will my family/friends be able to talk to the physician?
A: After the surgery is completed, your doctor will call the Surgical Waiting Room to speak to your family.
Q: How long can my family stay with me prior to surgery?
A: Your family can stay with you until you are brought to the Operating Room doors. Your family can then wait for you in our Surgical Waiting Room.
Q: Can my family sit with me while I am in the recovery room?
A: No. Your family can join you when you are moved to a hospital room.
Q: When do most people go home?
A: This depends on what type of surgery you are having done. Most people are able to go home the day after surgery.
Q: What if I cannot take certain types of pain medication?
A: Please let the nurses know which pain medications you cannot take during your Pre Admission Testing (PAT) visit.
Q: If I can't eat or drink anything the night before surgery-can I still take my prescription medications?
A: You should bring a list of your medications with you to your Pre-Admission Testing (PAT) visit. The nurse will review with you which medications you should still take the night before and day of your surgery.
Q: How long will my surgery take?
A: Your surgeon can give you an approximate time on how long the surgery will take. Please let your family/friends know to add at least two hours to the actual surgery time for preparation before surgery and recovery time after surgery.
Learn more on our Orthopedic Services page.