The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


Will I be disabled if I have back surgery?

One of the most common myths about spine surgery is that you will not be able to work after a back operation. In the Scientific American journal, Richard Deyo discussed a series of myths about back pain. Other myths included:
  • if you have a slipped disc, you must have surgery
  • x-rays and other tests can always locate the cause of the pain
  • if your back hurts, you need bed rest; and
  • most back pain is caused by an injury.

Most back pain is caused by wear and tear, not injury. Doctors call this “arthritis” and some is normal. If you don’t have any, you haven’t worked hard enough.

If you have back pain, you should avoid bed rest. Most back pain will improve with exercise. Strengthening back muscles decreases the stress on your discs.

For many with back pain, a specific cause is never found. The “wear and tear” cannot always be seen by x-ray or MRI. Even if you see arthritis, you cannot be sure that it is causing the pain.

Surgery is not needed for most patients who have slipped discs. Most slipped discs will heal in time with exercise, medications, and other conservative care.

Finally, even if you need a surgery, you will not likely be disabled. Most return to their original work. After surgery, for most people, only very heavy lifting and impact activities, such as jogging, are precluded.

If someone wants you to rush to surgery, common sense would say that you should get a second opinion.



The information in this site briefly describes issues related to medical treatments, and has been licensed by from Northern California Neurosurgery Medical Group, Inc., who is solely responsible for said content.  This web site is not a substitute for good medical care or for a consultation with a spine specialist. It should not be used to plan your treatment. The well considered advice of a specialist who has personally examined you is always superior to even the best internet pages.

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Last modified: 07/27/08