What are the different types of spine surgery?

There are three basic types of spine surgery: decompression, stabilization and correction.

Spine surgery is used to treat back pain that does not improve after standard care. In most people, spine surgery is only considered after extended nonsurgical therapy. However, there are some conditions where surgery may be necessary. Your doctor can help you determine when surgery may be an appropriate treatment for your condition.

Common types of spine surgeries include:

  • Diskectomy: surgery to remove all or part of your disk to help relieve pressure on pinched nerves
  • Laminectomy: surgery to remove the lamina (two small bones that make up a vertebra) to take pressure off your spinal cord or nerves
  • Spinal fusion: the fusing of two bones in your back to correct problems in your spine
  • Vertebroplasty: the injection of bone cement into compressed vertebrae
  • Foraminotomy: surgery to widen the opening in your back where nerve roots leave your spinal column
Dr. Arya Nick Shamie, MD

There are generally two main types of spine surgery: decompression and fusion. In general, decompression surgeries are done when there's pressure on the nerves. Doctors correlate the pressure with the area of the symptoms. If there is a correlation and if the person has failed to get better with conservative measures or non-surgical measures like physical therapy, medications, sometimes even injections, then surgical treatment, which is decompression, can be done to relieve that nerve.

Sometimes it's not just the nerve that's being compressed. There's also a problem with the stability of the spine. There can be a break in the back of the spine, or bad wear and tear that has made the spine unstable. When the vertebrae become unstable, that could put pressure on the nerves. In some of those cases, a fusion is done to stabilize the one vertebra against the other ones by putting in screws or various different types of implants to stabilize that spine.

Sometimes decompression is done alone, and sometimes fusion is done alone for various different problems, but often times the two are combined together. A patient that may have instability and nerve compression on top of that may need decompression and fusion. 

Spine surgery involves surgery of the lower back and the neck; procedures usually decompress nerve roots that are being pressed.

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