Paul Saiz, MD, is a spine surgeon based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Dr. Saiz describes spine surgery options to his patients in one of two ways. Either he will “unpinch what is pinched” or “stop moving parts that hurt from moving.” These problems are those to which Paul Saiz, MD attributes most spine issues, outside of tumor or trauma cases.
In order to fix what is commonly called a pinched nerve, surgeons must remove anatomy to clear space around the surrounding nerves to remove the “pinch,” either in a laminectomy (the complete removal of the posterior bony canal) or a laminotomy ( the partial removal of the bony canal). On the other hand, to address “painful moving parts,” surgeons perform a procedure called “fusion.” Fusion involves new bone growth in areas that have no bone, in order to create permanent immobilization. Thus, no pain can be created because there is no motion. New bone takes months to grow, so screws and rods are used to aid in the fusion; similarly to how a cast helps a broken bone heal.
Procedures that alter the spine certainly have drawbacks, ranging from premature wear and tear at other non-operated areas of the spine to permanent loss of range of motion. In most cases, doctors only discuss spine surgery with patients after conservative treatment such as physical therapy, injections, medications, and activity modification have failed.