Interactive Tool: Should I Consider Surgery for My Low Back Problem?

What does this tool measure?

Interactive Tool: Should I Consider Surgery for My Low Back Problem?

Click here to find out whether surgery may help reduce the symptoms of a back problem.

This interactive tool will not diagnose a back problem, but it will tell you whether surgery might help reduce or get rid of symptoms related to your low back problem. There are always risks with any surgery, so most people don't want to have surgery unless there is a very good chance it will help them. Although research shows that surgery is very likely to be effective for some problems, it rarely helps with others.

This tool will help you find out whether your own low back problem might be helped by surgery. After you use this tool, you can show the results to your doctor when you talk to him or her about surgery and your other options.

This tool is not meant for people in emergency situations. Talk to your doctor immediately if you have any of the following problems:

  • Bladder and/or bowel problems, including not being able to go to the bathroom as you normally do or not being able to control bowel movements or urination
  • Loss of feeling or rapidly decreasing feeling over your feet and heels or in your "saddle area," which includes any part of your body that might touch a saddle if you were on a horse, including your buttocks, your inner thighs, and the backs of your legs
  • Increasing pain, weakness, numbness, or problems with coordination in one or both legs
  • A fever for 2 or more days
  • A serious injury, an accident, or a big fall in the last 2 weeks
  • A history of spinal stenosis
  • A history of cancer

Health Tools Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.

Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.


Interactive tools help people determine health risks, ideal weight, target heart rate, and more. Interactive tools are designed to help people determine health risks, ideal weight, target heart rate, and more.
  Low back surgery tool

What do your results mean?

About 90% of the symptoms of low back problems, such as back pain and pain down the back of the leg, go away by themselves within 6 weeks, and 98% are gone within 1 year.1 Most people with back pain do not start having any tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), unless they have had symptoms for at least 4 weeks. Surgery is not considered until after that. As you work through this tool, you will get an idea of whether surgery might help you if your symptoms have lasted longer than 4 weeks.

What’s next?

If you are concerned about back pain or other related symptoms such as leg pain, numbness, or weakness, talk to your doctor about what steps you can take. If surgery is unlikely to help, you can still take action to reduce and control your symptoms.

Return to the topic:

Works consulted:

Carragee EJ, Hannibal M (2004). Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 35(2004): 7–16.

Hu SS, et al. (2006). Lumbar disc herniation section of Disorders, diseases, and injuries of the spine. In HB Skinner, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 4th ed., pp. 246–249. New York: McGraw-Hill.

References

Citations

  1. Carragee EJ, Hannibal M (2004). Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 35(2004): 7–16.

Other Works Consulted

  • Carragee EJ, Hannibal M (2004). Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain. Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 35(2004): 7–16.
  • Hu SS, et al. (2006). Lumbar disc herniation section of Disorders, diseases, and injuries of the spine. In HB Skinner, ed., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 4th ed., pp. 246–249. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Credits

Author Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert B. Keller, MD - Orthopedics
Last Updated November 30, 2009

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