Interactive Tool: Should I Consider Surgery for My Low Back Problem?
What does this tool help you learn?
This 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. Although research shows that surgery is very likely to be effective for some problems, it rarely helps with others.
This tool is not meant for people in emergency situations. Talk to your doctor right away if you have numbness, weakness, or other symptoms that are very bad or getting worse.
Carragee EJ, Hannibal M (2004). "Diagnostic evaluation of low back pain." Orthopedic Clinics of North America, 35(2004): 7–16.
Tay BKB, et al. (2014). "Disorders, diseases, and injuries of the spine." In HB Skinner, PJ McMahon, eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment in Orthopedics, 5th ed., pp. 156–229. New York: McGraw-Hill.
What do the results tell you?
Symptoms of low back problems, such as back pain and pain down the back of the leg, usually go away by themselves within several weeks. Most people with back pain don't need to see the doctor unless they have severe pain or their symptoms aren't getting better after about 4 weeks. And they don't start having any tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), unless they have had symptoms for at least 6 weeks or they've had other "red flags" such as signs of nerve damage. 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 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.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Robert B. Keller MD - Orthopedics