Surgery for Spinal Disc Conditions: Bulging Disc, Herniated Disc & DDD

What you will learn in this article:

- Surgery Dominance: Many doctors lean towards surgery for spinal disc conditions due to its historical success and immediate relief potential, but it's not always the best solution.

- Risks vs. Rewards: While spinal surgery can offer targeted and long-term relief, it comes with potential complications, recovery challenges, and doesn't guarantee success.

- Beyond the Scalpel: Numerous alternative treatments, from physical therapy and chiropractic care to cutting-edge non-surgical methods, offer promising results for spinal health.

- Empowerment: Making an informed decision about spinal health involves seeking multiple opinions, understanding one's body, and evaluating the urgency of surgical intervention.

Surgery for Spinal Disc Conditions

Every year, countless individuals are told that surgery is their only hope to address their spinal disc conditions.

But what if I told you there's more to the story? While many in the medical community swear by surgical intervention, there's a growing body of evidence suggesting it isn't always the golden ticket.

In this article, we'll not only dissect the reasons behind the common recommendation of surgery but also dive deep into its pros and cons.

And for those of you second-guessing the surgeon's table, we'll explore alternative treatments that might just offer the relief you're seeking.

Prepare to challenge the status quo and embark on a journey to understand the full spectrum of options for spinal disc conditions.

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The Most Common Surgeries Recommended for Spinal Disc Conditions

Discectomy or Microdiscectomy: This is the most common surgery for a herniated disc.

In this procedure, the portion of the disc that is causing pressure on the nerve root is removed.

In a microdiscectomy, surgeons use a microscope to view the disc and nerves, allowing for a smaller incision.

Laminectomy or Laminotomy: This procedure involves the removal of a small portion of the bony arches of the spinal canal, called the lamina.

It's often done when a herniated disc causes spinal stenosis, narrowing the canal and compressing the nerves.

Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR): This is an alternative to spinal fusion for treating degenerative disc disease.

The damaged disc is removed and replaced with an artificial one.

Spinal Fusion: This is a procedure where two or more vertebrae are permanently joined or fused together.

It's often done after a discectomy. Bone grafts, often from the patient's own hip, are placed between the vertebrae.

Metal plates, screws, and rods may be used to stabilize the spine.

Foraminotomy: This procedure is done to relieve pressure on nerves that are being compressed by the intervertebral foramina, the passages through the bones of the spine where nerve roots exit the spinal canal.

Percutaneous Disc Nucleoplasty: This is a minimally invasive procedure where a needle is inserted into the disc to remove a small amount of disc material, relieving pressure on the nerves.

Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy (IDET): This is a treatment for discs that are cracked or bulging as a result of degenerative disc disease.

A wire is inserted into the disc through a needle, and heated to seal any tears in the disc.

Chemonucleolysis: This is a less common procedure where an enzyme is injected into the disc to dissolve the portion that's bulging and pressing on nerves.

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What is the Success Rate of these Surgeries?

It's important to note that success rates can vary based on the specific condition being treated, the surgeon's experience, and the patient's overall health.

Always consult with a spine specialist to understand the potential risks and benefits of any surgical procedure.

However, here are a few studies to consider.

Discectomy or Microdiscectomy:

Study: "Learning curve for percutaneous endoscopic lumbar discectomy" by D. Y. Lee and Sang-Ho Lee.

Findings: One year after surgery, clinical success was achieved in 42 of the 47 patients in whom percutaneous endoscopic lumbar discectomy (PELD) was initially successful, indicating a success rate of approximately 89.4%.

Artificial Disc Replacement (ADR):

Study: "Long-term clinical and radiographic outcomes of the Prestige LP artificial cervical disc replacement at 2 levels" by T. Lanman et al.

Findings: At 84 months, the Prestige LP ADR demonstrated a success rate of 74.9% compared to 63.2% for anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).

Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion (ACDF):

Study: "Cervical Disc Arthroplasty with Prestige LP Disc Versus Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion: Seven-Year Outcomes" by M. Gornet et al.

Findings: At 84 months, the success rate for ACDF was 63.2%.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when reviewing the research on this topic:

1. Discectomy and Microdiscectomy have the highest chance of success, while Spinal Fusion has the lowest.

2. Surgery is not always a permanent fix - although the success rate may be higher when a study looks at the end result over a year time, the success rate lessens as time goes on.

3. The success rate of surgery declines when a person has multiple spinal surgeries. For example, if you had a spinal surgery and then 5 years later you have another one, the chances of the 2nd surgery being successful drops.

The Common Belief: Surgery as the Go-To Solution

For decades, the medical community has leaned heavily towards surgery as the primary solution for spinal disc conditions. But why is this the case?

Why Doctors Often Recommend Surgery

Immediate Relief: One of the most compelling reasons is the promise of immediate relief.

Surgical procedures, especially those using advanced techniques, can often provide instant alleviation from pain and discomfort.

Clear Pathology: When a disc herniation or other spinal issue is clearly visible through imaging studies, it presents a tangible problem that surgery can address.

It's like seeing a nail in a tire; you know exactly where the issue is and how to fix it.

Historical Success: Over the years, many patients have reported significant improvement post-surgery.

These success stories have solidified the belief in surgery as a reliable solution.

Economic Factors: Let's not dance around it. Surgical procedures can be lucrative for hospitals and specialists.

While most doctors genuinely believe in the best interests of their patients, the economic incentives can't be ignored.

The Rise of Spinal Surgeries

Spinal surgeries have seen a significant uptick in the past few decades. Here's a snapshot:

Increased Diagnoses: With the advent of advanced imaging techniques like MRIs, more people are being diagnosed with spinal disc conditions than ever before.

Aging Population: As the global population ages, degenerative disc disease becomes more common, leading to a higher demand for surgical interventions.

Societal Factors: Our modern lifestyle, marked by prolonged sitting and less physical activity, has contributed to a surge in spinal issues. This, in turn, has increased the number of surgeries.

Medical Advancements: As surgical techniques become more refined and less invasive, the threshold for recommending surgery has lowered. It's seen as less risky and more routine.

While surgery has its place and can be a lifesaver for many, it's essential to understand the full picture.

The belief in surgery as the primary solution is deeply rooted, but as we'll see, there are other avenues worth exploring.

The Controversial Truth: Surgery Isn't Always Necessary

Brace yourself, because what I'm about to share might ruffle some feathers.

While surgery has been hailed as the ultimate solution for spinal disc conditions, there's a growing body of evidence suggesting that it's not always the best route. Let's dive into the nitty-gritty.

When Can Surgery Be Avoided?

Early Stage Conditions: Not all spinal disc issues are created equal. In many early-stage conditions, the body can heal itself with the right support and interventions.

Think of it as a small cut on your finger; given time and care, it'll mend without stitches.

Responsive to Non-Surgical Treatments: Many patients have found relief through physical therapy, chiropractic adjustments, and even simple lifestyle changes.

If a condition responds well to these treatments, why opt for the scalpel?

Lack of Clear Pathology: Sometimes, even with advanced imaging, the exact cause of the pain remains elusive.

In such cases, surgery becomes a game of guesswork, and that's a game you don't want to play.

The Not-So-Pleasant Side of Spinal Surgeries

Complications: Like any surgical procedure, spinal surgeries come with their set of risks. Infections, nerve damage, and even paralysis in rare cases are potential complications.

Failed Back Surgery Syndrome (FBSS): Sounds ominous, right? FBSS refers to a situation where the patient's pain continues or even worsens after surgery.

It's a grim reminder that surgical intervention doesn't guarantee relief.

Long Recovery Periods: Post-surgery, patients often face lengthy recovery times, during which they might be bedridden or require assistance for basic tasks.

This can take a toll, both physically and mentally.

Dependency on Medications: Post-operative pain management often involves potent painkillers, which can lead to dependency or other side effects.

It's time we challenge the notion that surgery is the only way out.

While it can be a godsend for some, for others, it might be an unnecessary journey filled with potential pitfalls.

The key? Informed decisions.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Spinal Surgery

Diving into the world of spinal surgery, it's crucial to have a balanced perspective.

While the allure of immediate relief can be tempting, it's essential to understand both the bright side and the potential shadows of this medical intervention.

The Bright Side: Benefits of Surgical Intervention

Targeted Relief: Surgical procedures can directly address the root cause of the problem, be it a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. This targeted approach can offer relief that other treatments might not achieve.

Long-Term Solution: For some, surgery can be a one-time fix, eliminating the need for ongoing treatments or therapies. It's like fixing a leaky pipe instead of constantly mopping up the water.

Improved Mobility: Post-surgery, many patients report enhanced mobility, allowing them to return to activities they love, from dancing to hiking.

Enhanced Quality of Life: Living with chronic pain can be debilitating. Successful surgery can drastically improve one's quality of life, from better sleep to improved mental well-being.

The Shadows: Potential Complications and Drawbacks

Surgical Risks: Every surgery, no matter how routine, carries risks. These can range from infections to more severe complications like blood clots or nerve damage.

No Guarantee of Success: Surgery doesn't come with a 100% success rate. Some patients might not experience the relief they hoped for, leading to potential regrets.

Cost: Surgical interventions can be expensive, and not all insurance plans might cover the full costs. This can lead to financial strain for many.

The Road to Recovery: Post-Surgery Challenges

Rehabilitation: After the procedure, patients often need extensive physical therapy to regain strength and mobility. This can be a long and sometimes painful journey.

Temporary Limitations: Post-surgery, there might be restrictions on activities, from lifting heavy objects to even simple tasks like bending or twisting.

Emotional Challenges: The road to recovery can be emotionally taxing. Dealing with pain, limited mobility, and the fear of potential complications can lead to feelings of frustration or even depression.

Making the decision to undergo spinal surgery isn't a walk in the park. It's a significant choice that requires careful consideration of both its promising benefits and potential challenges.

Armed with this knowledge, you're better equipped to make an informed choice.

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Exploring Alternative Treatments

Before you jump on the surgical bandwagon, it's worth exploring the myriad of alternative treatments available.

These options, often less invasive, can offer relief without the potential complications of surgery. Let's dive into some of the most promising ones.

Physical Therapy: More Than Just Exercise

Tailored Programs: Physical therapists design programs specifically for your condition, ensuring you get the most out of each session.

Strength and Flexibility: Through targeted exercises, you can strengthen the muscles around the spine, providing better support and reducing pain.

Posture Correction: Bad posture can exacerbate spinal issues. Physical therapy can teach you how to sit, stand, and move in ways that protect your spine.

Chiropractic Care: Separating Fact from Fiction

Myth: Chiropractic adjustments are just "bone cracking."
Reality: These adjustments aim to realign the spine, improving nerve function and reducing pain.

Myth: Once you start chiropractic care, you can't stop.
Reality: While some conditions might require ongoing treatments, many patients find relief after a set number of sessions.

Natural Remedies and Lifestyle Tweaks

Anti-Inflammatory Diet: Foods like turmeric, ginger, and omega-3 rich fish can reduce inflammation, a common culprit behind spinal pain.

Stay Active: Regular low-impact activities like swimming or walking can keep your spine healthy and pain at bay.

Mind-Body Practices: Techniques like yoga and meditation can not only improve flexibility but also help manage pain.

On the Horizon: Cutting-Edge Non-Surgical Treatments

Stem Cell Therapy: By injecting stem cells into the affected area, there's potential to regenerate damaged tissue, offering a novel approach to treating spinal conditions.

Spinal Decompression: This therapy uses motorized traction to relieve back pain by gently stretching the spine, changing the force and position of the spine.

Laser Therapy: By targeting the affected area with lasers, this treatment can reduce inflammation and promote healing.

The world of spinal health is vast, with a plethora of treatments waiting to be explored.

Before making any decisions, it's worth considering all avenues, ensuring you choose the path best suited for your unique condition.

Making an Informed Decision

Navigating the maze of spinal health can be daunting. But remember, the most crucial player in this journey is you.

Making an informed decision means arming yourself with the right knowledge and asking the right questions. Let's break it down.

Questions to Propel Your Conversation with the Doctor

What's the Root Cause?: Understand the underlying cause of your pain. Is it a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or something else?

What Are All My Options?: Before zeroing in on surgery, ask about all available treatments, both surgical and non-surgical.

What Are the Risks?: Every treatment has its set of risks. Ensure you're fully aware of potential complications.

What's the Success Rate?: For any recommended procedure, ask about its success rate and potential outcomes.

Tuning Into Your Body's Signals

Pain Levels: Track your pain. Is it constant? Does it flare up after specific activities? Understanding its patterns can provide valuable insights.

Listen to Your Gut: If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't. Trust your instincts when evaluating treatments or practitioners.

Research: Equip yourself with knowledge. Read up on your condition, potential treatments, and listen to others' experiences.

Assessing the Need for Immediate Action

Severity: If you're experiencing symptoms like loss of bladder control, severe weakness, or intense pain, it might indicate a more urgent need for intervention.

Progression: Track the progression of your symptoms. If they're rapidly worsening, it might be time to consider more aggressive treatments.

Impact on Daily Life: If your condition is severely impacting your quality of life, making everyday tasks unbearable, it might be a sign to consider more immediate solutions.

The path to spinal health is personal. What works for one might not work for another.

By arming yourself with the right questions and a deep understanding of your body, you're well on your way to making the best decision for your unique situation.

Challenging the Status Quo

In the realm of spinal health, the prevailing narrative has often been skewed towards surgical solutions.

But as we've journeyed through the intricacies of this topic, it's evident that there's more than meets the eye.

The Power of a Second Opinion

Never underestimate the value of a fresh perspective.

While one doctor might be firmly in the surgical camp, another might advocate for alternative treatments.

Seeking a second, or even third, opinion ensures you're getting a comprehensive view of your options.

It's like shopping for a car; you wouldn't buy the first one you see without checking out a few more, right?

The Holistic Highway to Health

Spinal health isn't just about the spine. It's intertwined with your overall well-being.

Embracing a holistic approach means looking at the bigger picture:

Diet: What you eat can influence inflammation and pain.

Mental Health: Stress, anxiety, and depression can exacerbate physical pain. Addressing these can be a game-changer.

Lifestyle: Simple changes, like regular exercise or ergonomic workspaces, can make a world of difference.

Be Your Own Champion

At the end of the day, you're the captain of your ship. While doctors and specialists provide valuable guidance, you hold the power to make decisions.

Dive deep into research, ask questions, and challenge the status quo. Your health is worth it.

In this ever-evolving landscape of spinal health, it's time to think outside the box, to challenge established norms, and to champion a more informed, holistic approach. Your spine, your rules.


Honestly, it tugs at my heartstrings when I think about how many people are told surgery is their only option. The truth, which might be a bit hard to swallow, is that surgery offers immediate relief and has a history of success. But, and it's a big but, there are other treatments like physical therapy and chiropractic care that can work wonders. Plus, let's not ignore the elephant in the room: surgeries can be quite lucrative for hospitals.

Feeling torn between these options is totally understandable. From my personal experience, physical therapy offers tailored programs that focus on strength and posture. On the other hand, chiropractic adjustments aim to realign the spine. Both have their merits. It's like comparing Netflix to Hulu; each has its unique shows and features. The best way? Try both and see which one resonates with your body.

Oh, the number of times I've heard these myths! Let me clear the air. Chiropractic adjustments aren't just about "bone cracking." They're about improving nerve function. And no, you don't have to keep going forever. It's not like a gym membership you can't cancel. Many patients find relief after just a few sessions.

Absolutely! It warms my heart to see people turning to natural remedies. An anti-inflammatory diet with foods like turmeric and ginger can be a game-changer. Pair that with mind-body practices like yoga, and you're on a holistic highway to health. It's like choosing organic food over processed junk; your body will thank you.

The future of spinal health is so exciting! Stem cell therapy, which aims to regenerate damaged tissue, is on the horizon. Then there's spinal decompression and laser therapy. It's like comparing the latest iPhone to older models; the advancements are just mind-blowing.

This is such a personal decision, and I genuinely feel for anyone grappling with it. If your symptoms are rapidly worsening or severely impacting your daily life, it might be time to consider more immediate solutions. It's like deciding whether to buy a new car now or wait for the next model; you have to weigh the pros and cons based on your current situation.


Sherman, K., Cherkin, D., Erro, J. H., Miglioretti, D., & Deyo, R. (2005). Comparing Yoga, Exercise, and a Self-Care Book for Chronic Low Back Pain

Goertz, C., & George, S. (2018). Insurer Coverage of Nonpharmacological Treatments for Low Back Pain-Time for a Change

Samartzis, D., Alini, M., An, H., Karppinen, J., Rajasekaran, S., Vialle, L., Wang, J. C., & de Kleuver, M. (2018). Precision Spine Care: A New Era of Discovery, Innovation, and Global Impact

Perrucci, R., Roybal, M., Anderson, M. T., Barbato, M., & Walters, S. A. (2021). Association of Chiropractic Colleges Research Agenda Conference 2021 Abstracts of Proceedings

Dr. Ron Daulton, Jr.

About the Author

Dr. Ron Daulton, Jr., an acclaimed chiropractor, esteemed educator, and inspiring author, has devoted his life to fostering understanding of natural healthcare and enhancing well-being across society.

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