• Consumer Health: Do you need back surgery?

a young white woman in a striped sweater, sitting on a couch, wincing in pain, her eyes closed, looking sad and holding her back because it hurts

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical care or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Back pain can range from muscle aching to a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation. In addition, the pain may radiate down your leg or worsen with bending, twisting, lifting, standing or walking.

Back surgery can relieve some causes of back pain, but it's rarely necessary. Back problems typically respond to nonsurgical treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, heat and physical therapy. Most back pain resolves on its own within three months.

However, back surgery might be an option if conservative treatments haven't worked, and your pain is persistent and disabling. Back surgery often more predictably relieves associated pain or numbness that goes down one or both arms or legs.

Learn more about four types of back surgery and whether you may need back surgery.

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