Spine Surgery Overview

Spine Surgery

Certain spinal conditions, such as back pain, are very common. Treating these conditions can be very challenging, requiring the expertise and coordination of specialists in physical medicine, pain management, and spine surgery. When patients do not improve with non-operative therapies, spine surgery can sometimes be an option.

Patients requiring spine surgery can find comprehensive and state-of-the-art care at Brigham and Women's Hospital Comprehensive Spine Center. Our internationally recognized team of spine care experts provides world-class, patient-focused care for a broad range of spinal conditions.

Multiple Locations for Spine Surgery Consultations

To provide greater access to our clinicians, patients may consult a neurosurgeon or orthopaedic surgeon about spine surgery at three locations:

  • Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA
  • Brigham and Women's Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain, MA
  • Brigham and Women's/MGH Center in Foxborough, MA

What Conditions Are Treated with Spine Surgery?

Spine surgery can be used to treat a range of spine diseases and conditions, typically after other non-operative therapies have been unsuccessful. These conditions include:

  • Cervical myelopathy and radiculopathy
  • Lumbar radiculopathy
  • Disc herniation
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Spinal fractures and disorders
  • Spinal infections
  • Spinal and nerve tumors
  • Spinal vascular disease
  • Spinal deformity and scoliosis
  • Chiari malformation
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Failed back syndrome

What Are the Most Common Spine Surgery Procedures?

The specific options for spine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital include:

  • Spinal decompression, such as a laminectomy to remove a portion of the vertebral bone, a discectomy to remove all or portions of a disc, and a foraminotomy to widen the opening in the back where nerve roots leave the spinal canal
  • Spinal fusion, a spine surgery in which the discs between two or more vertebrae are removed and the adjacent vertebrae are fused together to limit back pain and provide stability to the spine. Spinal fusion is often used to treat degenerative disc disease and spondylolisthesis
  • Minimally invasive spine surgery to treat a variety of conditions. Minimally invasive spine surgery provides significant benefits to the patient—it requires a smaller incision, preserves normal muscular structure, reduces infections and blood loss, minimizes post-operative pain, and speeds recovery time
  • Arthroplasty/motion preserving surgery to replace cervical and/or lumbar discs with artificial material to prevent the need for spinal fusion surgery and enable more normal spinal movement after surgery
  • Complex spinal reconstruction for patients with severe curvature of the spine due to scoliosis or other spinal deformities
  • Multidisciplinary spinal tumor surgery and care to remove tumors of the spinal cord and nerve sheath. This surgery requires a delicate handling to prevent injury to normal spinal cord tissue, and is usually performed under a special microscope that neurosurgeons can use to constantly monitor the function of the spinal cord during surgery

Who Performs Spine Surgery?

Spine surgery is performed by an orthopaedic or neurological surgeon.

What Are the Alternatives to Spine Surgery?

Non-surgical treatment for spinal conditions includes rest, physical therapy, and medical pain management (oral medications or spinal injections). Typically, these therapies are used before spine surgery is considered. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other imaging can help determine the source of back pain, but the comprehensive assessment of functional impairments forms the basis for the creation of a treatment plan.

Brigham and Women's Comprehensive Spine Center

The Brigham and Women’s Comprehensive Spine Center offers multidisciplinary treatment for patients experiencing spinal conditions due to back pain, disease, or injury. Patients are referred to the appropriate clinical service for initial evaluation using advanced diagnostic procedures and imaging. Neurosurgeons and orthopaedic surgeons in the center work with specialists in pain management and physical medicine to development personalized treatment plans. The collaborative focus of the center allows patients to seamlessly transition between clinical services as dictated by their diagnosis and progress.

Patient- and Family-Centered Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital has long been committed to not only the care of our patients but also the many other needs that they and their families have. This philosophy of patient- and family-centered care involves systems and services that emphasize healing in a comfortable, relaxed environment.

Quality of Patient Care

Brigham and Women’s Hospital is committed to providing all of our patients with the safest, highest-quality, most-satisfying care possible and follow established protocols that have been shown to improve patient outcomes. Our inpatient satisfaction survey, sent to patients’ to assess their total care experience, helps us to monitor what we are doing well and areas for improvement. We pride ourselves in the quality of patient care we provide and how we are measured compared with other hospitals.

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