What Are Common Types of Spine Surgery?

Minimally invasive procedures can fix chronic neck and back pain

A back specialist examines a patient.

Minimally invasive procedures can fix chronic neck and back pain

Most people will have neck or back pain at some point in their lives. It could be from an accident or simply just getting older. However, this pain can make it hard to do everyday tasks.

Treatment for neck or back pain depends on the type and cause of pain. Often, it is a short-term condition that gets better with self-care. Other times, it’s important to seek medical care because something else may be going on. Various conditions can affect the spine leading to pain, discomfort and reduced function.

“You should see a doctor if you have numbness, tingling, or severe pain that does not improve with rest,” says Stephen R. Stephan, MD, an, orthopedic spine specialist at Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines and Scripps Clinic Encinitas. “Your doctor may recommend medication, injections, physical therapy and other treatments.”

Surgery is often the last option, but it can be the best way to manage pain effectively in some cases. “Back and neck pain can be complicated and may require spine specialists to diagnose and provide surgical treatment,” Dr. Stephan says.

When to consider spine surgery

Surgery may be an option if physical therapy, medicine, injections and lifestyle changes fail to improve symptoms. Your doctor may refer you to a spine surgeon, who could be a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon.

Surgery can help fix certain spine conditions, including:

Degenerative disc disease

This condition happens when the discs between the bones in your spine break down, causing pain, stiffness and less movement. It usually happens as you get older or from doing the same movements over and over.

Herniated disc or bulging disc

This condition happens when a soft disc in the spine pushes through the tough outer layer. This puts pressure on nearby nerves, causing pain, numbness and weakness in the affected area.

Compressed nerves

Nerve compression can occur from herniated discs, bone spurs, or spinal stenosis. It can lead to pain, tingling and weakness along the nerve pathway.

Osteoarthritis of the spine

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, affects the spine’s cartilage and bones, causing pain, stiffness and limited movement.

Compression fractures

Fractures from osteoporosis or trauma can cause vertebral collapse, leading to pain, deformity and loss of height.

Spinal stenosis

This condition occurs when the spinal canal narrows, usually in the neck or lower back. This can lead to pain, numbness and weakness in the neck or lower back.

Cervical radiculopathy (pinched nerve)

When a nerve in the neck is irritated or pressed, it can cause pain, weakness and numbness. This discomfort can spread to the shoulder and arm.

What are spine surgery techniques?

Spine surgery can be done in different ways, such as open or minimally invasive surgery. Minimally invasive spine surgery is done through a small incision with a microscope and special tools. This surgery doesn’t disturb muscles, so there is less pain and a faster recovery.

"Most people with back or neck pain get better with non-surgery treatments. Some patients with spinal issues can benefit from minimally invasive procedures that can significantly improve their quality of life,” Dr. Stephan says.

Like any surgery, spine procedures carry risks, such as anesthesia reactions, infections, bleeding and nerve damage. Your doctor will discuss these risks with you and take precautions to avoid any issues.

Common types of neck and back surgery

There are many types of spine surgery, but they all fall into one of two main categories:

Decompression spine surgery helps with pain caused by pressure on spinal nerves or the spinal cord.

Stabilization spine surgery strengthens and stabilizes the spine, reducing movement and often relieving back or neck pain.


This procedure helps to reduce pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. It does this by removing a small part of the bone in the back of the spinal canal. It is commonly used for spinal stenosis or a herniated disc.


This procedure removes all or part of a herniated disc in the lower back to relieve nerve compression. A microdiscectomy is a similar but less invasive surgery done through a smaller incision.

Spinal fusion

Fusion surgery involves joining two or more vertebrae together using bone grafts or synthetic materials. It stabilizes the spine, reducing pain and preventing further degeneration. It can treat neck and lower back pain conditions.

Artificial disc replacement

This procedure removes a damaged spinal disc and replaces it with an artificial one to reduce neck or lower back pain.

Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion

This neck surgery can help with pain, weakness, tingling and numbness in the arms from a pinched nerve or spine narrowing.

During surgery, a damaged disc is taken out through a small cut in the front side of the neck. A bone graft or spacer is put in its place, along with a plate and screws, to make the spine stable.

What is the recovery time for minimally invasive surgery?

Recovery time varies, depending on the type of surgery. Deciding when to return to work depends on the patient’s healing and occupation.


After a laminectomy, a relatively simple surgery, patients may go back to desk work in a couple of weeks. More physical occupations could require six weeks.

Recovery from spinal fusion surgery can take longer. It can take six weeks to return to an office job. It can take three months for physical work.

Role of physical therapy

Physical therapy helps patients get stronger, more flexible, and mobile, while reducing pain and preventing problems. It may start two weeks to three months after surgery, depending on the procedure.

“After surgery, patients can improve their recovery and regain function by following postoperative care and rehabilitation. This helps them return to their daily activities with a better quality of life,” Dr. Stephan says.

Spine specialists at Scripps

Spine specialists at Scripps provide some of the most advanced minimally invasive spine surgery and other surgical options, including spinal fusion, artificial disc replacement and robotic spine surgery.

Scripps is recognized by U.S. News & World Report as having one of the top orthopedic programs in the country.

Read our infographic for more information about minimally invasive spine procedures.

This infographic explains common reasons for spine surgery and common types of neck and back surgery.

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