Melissa’s Return to Music, and 5 Myths About Back Surgery

Melissa was a middle school music teacher and viola player who depended on fluid painless movements to play complicated classical music and teach an orchestra of middle schoolers.  But by 2018 she was suffering so severely with a cervical disc herniation in her neck that she feared she may not be able to play without pain.  This meant she needed a plan. Luckily, she was a good candidate for surgery and made an appointment at NJNBI to talk with Dr. Sandro LaRocca.  You can watch her full story here and see how after a successful surgery she not only was able to go back to the classroom to play pain free pain free, but also to smile again.  The decision for Melissa to have surgery meant busting a few myths – lets list those myths and discuss a few:

  1. Surgery won’t make me better or might not work

No one should have surgery until they have tried all the reasonable non-surgical treatments such as physical therapy, pain management and epidural injections.  Surgery is an option when someone has not responded to these standards of care.  The criteria for surgery is fairly straightforward for most major conditions like disc herniations, stenosis and spondylolisthesis. If a patient fits the criteria in the long established surgical protocols, then a recommendation is for surgery because they are very likely going to see improvement.  The degree of improvement will of course vary with each unique circumstance, and a surgeon should provide a conservative, transparent prognosis.  But this myth is busted by the millions of patients who experienced improved quality of life, despite expectations.

  1. The recovery will be too painful and take a very long time

A majority of neck and back surgery is drastically less invasive than it used to be – making recovery much easier.  For many routine surgeries like a discectomy, time in a hospital is minimal and rarely more than a few days.  Most people who aren’t in physically demanding jobs are back at work in a little over a week, while physical jobs are usually between one and two months.  Of course various surgeries can take longer, but pain management and physical therapy make the recovery bearable and comfortable.  Neck and back surgery are no joke – but it’s a myth that post-surgical discomfort or pain is unmanageable or unbearable, and it’s a small inconvenience with a big payoff in improved quality of life

  1. The cost is enormous, I don’t have good insurance

At NJNBI we see ourselves as your advocate and we know we will need to fight for you with your insurance plan.  We are an out of network provider which we feel is the best way to deliver the highest quality care.  That means we can promise you no surprises when it comes to billing and an open an honest discussion about how to approach the complicated mess of insurance providers that feels so overwhelming.  The vast majority of our patients are not just happy with the fact they were able to meet their financial obligations that went along with the surgery, but happy that we worked as partners in getting them there.

  1. I’ll never be the same after surgery

Decades of data dispel this myth.  The great advancements in technology let us measure massive amounts of public health data and measure surgical outcomes and effectiveness.  Technology also allows peer review and sharing quicker and more efficient than ever before, as well as updating or adjustments to surgical protocols.  What busts this myth is the simple fact that we know exactly what works best and what doesn’t, and which patients do well and why… which means we have a measured confidence that you will improve and not deteriorate after surgery.  Surgery is not a point of return, it’s a nudge for the body to heal based on long understood scientific criteria and data. The days of unintended outcomes are long gone, and rare anomalies, with qualified surgeons.

  1. Surgery may work temporarily, but five years from now I’ll be right back where I am now so why bother?

This myth is in fact based on some elements of reality – but still a myth nonetheless. We actually do not know what will happen to you five years from now or how you will feel – but we do know what has happened to millions of other patients before you, and we can make a sound and reasonable projection of what you might expect in five years.  Not all surgeries will fix a problem forever, and some conditions can deteriorate even years after surgery.  But should you continue to suffer with diminished quality of life in that time period if the odds are good for improvement and data shows it?  Think of the activities you’ll be able to resume, the stress relieved off your mind, the energy you’ll have to enjoy your children or grandchildren. Think about the opportunity to truly be more present in your life, as opposed to the treadmill of chronic pain management.  This myth is destroyed by the idea that nobody can say where they will be in five years but if decades of information show you the odds are in your favor that life will be better, don’t you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to bet on those odds?

If you or a loved one have been told you are a candidate for neck or back surgery, or you are tired of living with the chronic pain of disc herniation, stenosis or spondylolisthesis, call New Jersey Neck & Back Institute at 609-896-0020 or schedule an appointment to discuss a plan.