Discectomy Pain

You’ve Chosen Surgery: Here’s What to Expect…

In a recently published article, Carson Daly of the Today Show shared that after trying many different methods of pain relief, he finally relented and chose surgery (Anterior Lumbar Fusion) to relieve his lower back pain.

Spine surgery for many people is the last option after exhausting all other pain relief modalities including exercise, physiotherapy, acupuncture, chiropractor, yoga and various other treatments.  However, with modern advances in surgical techniques,  you’re in good hands with qualified, experienced spine surgeons at reputable hospitals.

Here’s a walkthrough the process with Dr. Andrew Marky, neurosurgery physician and spine surgeon at Novant Health Brain & Spine Surgery – Ballantyne in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Initial Assessment 

The medical staff first need to assess if you even qualify for surgery.  I remember being asked if I smoked cigarettes or vaped, which can cause complications and could lengthen recovery times.   Dr. Marky states ‘having a body mass index over 40 and having serious medical conditions such as diabetes and severe heart and lung conditions, may make patients ineligible for elective surgery. Smoking has many adverse health effects, puts additional strain on the heart and makes healing more difficult’.

Surgery Details Explained

If a candidate passes this initial assessment, they meet with the surgeon to go over the procedure.  Both surgeons I’ve dealt with in the past, went over in detail how the operation would go,  what I can expect when I wake up, and recovery time information.  After approving the surgery, some paperwork is signed to signify that the patient understands the risks involved.  These clearance forms could also be signed on the day of the surgery.


About a week before my surgeries, I  had to go the hospital to get some bloodwork done, meet with staff to go over any history of underlying conditions (In my case,  acid reflux meant changes to the anesthetic used), and medications I was currently on.  Dr. Marky explains “If patients have significant complicating health conditions (often called co-morbidities) like heart or lung problems, they’ll be asked to see a medical specialist to get a clearance letter”.  At the end of this visit, they send you home with some information about the 24 hours before the operation, what you can and cannot eat, things to pack for an overnight stay, when family members can visit post surgery, along with other relevant information,

Day of Surgery

The day of surgery, the patient is usually asked to be at the hospital about two hours before their operation. During that waiting period, the patient will meet with their surgeon and anesthesiologist and have the opportunity to ask any last-minute questions. Try to relax during the period, as you’ll probably be a little nervous. I’d recommend some breathing exercises like Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breath work.

“We mark their surgical site during that meeting,” Marky said. “In the meantime, the nurses are getting them checked in, getting their IV started, getting their surgical gown.”

“Once the room is ready, the patient will be brought back and placed under general anesthesia. Family members can stay in the waiting room or receive post-surgery updates by phone”.

Surgeries can take anywhere between 2-8 hours depending on the complexity of the procedure. When you wake up, you’re fairly groggy and in some discomfort from the tubes used. Once you’re in your room, your surgeon will usually visit to check in and see how you’re doing..and advise on any outpatient procedures (meds to take at home, physiotherapy schedule etc) Once patients are awake in the recovery room, family members are permitted to visit.

It’s also critical to get the body moving relatively quickly to promote bloodflow.  “We want them up and out of bed the same day,” Marky said. “The nursing team will help them walk – usually up and down the hall.”

When you’re considering surgery as an option, it’s best to do your homework to get a better understanding of what you’re in for.  By this point you’ll  have already met with some medical professionals to get their opinion, but ultimately, with elective surgeries it’s your choice.  If you’ve spent the time to research and consult with people who have had the surgery, you’ll be in a much better frame of mind to make the right decision – one that could improve your life considerably.

The Mayfield Guide is an excellent resource for spinal surgery preparation.  Here are some additional links on what patients who are cleared for surgery can expect:

Additional Links





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