Lumbar degenerative disc disease surgery is definitely the most dangerous and often inappropriate of all the disc pain therapy options used to battle intervertebral desiccation in the lower spine.
Surgery for any lower back pain condition should be avoided if at all possible, since most operative interventions statistically offer little hope of relieving the symptoms long-term and simultaneously provide a significant risk of worsening the pain forever. For DDD, the surgical results are rarely satisfying, since disc degeneration is rarely even the actual source of symptoms.
Before undergoing any form of spinal procedure, it is always best to concentrate on verifying the accuracy of the diagnosis by seeking multiple professional opinions from different types of care providers. This is both prudent and wise.
This essay helps patients to better understand why disc degeneration is often coincidental to the pain and why surgery may not be the best path of therapy, even if the disc is indeed the actual causative mechanism.
For lumbar DDD, there are really only 2 typically utilized surgical treatment techniques:
The most common surgical practice is spinal fusion.
In this operation, the remainder of the desiccated disc material is
surgically removed and the vertebral bones are fastened together with
bone grafts and surgical hardware. Fusion not only changes the natural
design and functionality of the spine for the worse, but is proven to
create accelerated degeneration and stress in surrounding spinal levels.
Many patients eventually must have additional fusions to stabilize the
spine and treat recurrent pain, until all mobility is lost in large
areas of the anatomy.
The alternate surgical approach to fusion uses disc replacement surgery to remove the old worn out disc and replace it with a new synthetic disc substitute. While disc and disc-nucleus replacement are promising solutions for truly problematic intervertebral issues, they are far from perfect. Hardware problems are commonplace and many patients suffer postoperative complications. Additionally, long-term studies are still not available for many devices, so patients may not have a good idea how well their new disc substitutes will fare over time. This is a frightening proposition to be sure.
With spinal fusion, the immediate results are mixed. Some patients feel better once the initial surgical wounds have healed and they begin rehabilitation. In a few of these cases, the disc may have been successfully treated and the pain is therefore relieved. In others, the surgery functions as more of a powerful placebo than anything else. However, being that the real reason for the pain may never have been addressed, the symptoms generally return in a few weeks or months, often becoming far worse the next time around.
In other patients, the pain is immediately worsened and remains so. The body has not been fooled by the placebo and the pain is now aggravated by the very real damage done during the spinal procedure. Additionally, many post-surgical fusion patients have dire complications and sometimes wind up completely disabled and in constant agony.
Disc replacement offers slightly better results, although long-term statistics are still being investigated. At least, disc replacement does not actively promote accelerated degeneration in other spinal levels, which is inherent to fusion procedures. Disc substitutes also seek to maintain normal spinal functionality, which seems like a sensible and logical goal from any perspective.
Remember, the main reason most of these surgical procedures fail is simple misdiagnosis. The degenerative disc disease might never have been the actual source of pain, so treatment for DDD is bound to fail. Unfortunately, when the treatment is spinal surgery, now real injury has been done to the region and the patient will have to endure this trauma, as well.
Fusion, in particular, is particularly cruel and barbaric, since it goes against the actual anatomical design of the spine and it often necessitates follow up fusion procedures as neighboring vertebral levels crumble, one after another, due to the stress of the fused segments wearing on them. Fusion begets more fusion, but rarely provides pain relief. It is no surprise that many enlightened doctors advise patients to avoid it like the plague.