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Herniated discs occur when the soft, spongy tissue that rests between your vertebrae slips out of its casing and irritates the surrounding nerves. Irritated spinal nerves can cause back and leg pain and significantly inhibit your quality of life. Fortunately, if you have a herniated disc that is limiting your activity, surgery can be a highly effective treatment option.

If you elect to undergo surgery, you will be tasked with selecting a surgeon to perform the procedure. This can be a challenge because many patients are not sure how best to evaluate and choose a medical professional. Making the right choice is important; a skilled, experienced surgeon can improve your chances of a fast and complete recovery. What follows is an overview of several steps you can take, as well as characteristics to seek, to make sure that you pick the right surgeon for your herniated disc treatment.

Double-Check Your Diagnosis

You should only undergo surgery if you and your doctor are confident that surgery is the best choice for you. There are many effective treatments for herniated discs that don’t involve surgery, so it’s a good idea to try them before committing to an operation. Only when conservative treatments fail can you be sure that surgery is the right option.

Your doctor must be knowledgeable about the underlying cause and location of the pain in order for surgery to be effective. If you are concerned about the reliability of your diagnosis, you may find it helpful to obtain a second opinion. Take note, however, that a second opinion is not always more reliable than the first. Consider the advice of both doctors before proceeding with your herniated disc treatment.

Ask the Surgeon Questions

Once you feel assured that your diagnosis is correct, you should begin to ask questions of prospective surgeons. Don’t be afraid to be direct when asking about your surgeon’s experience and qualifications. You deserve access to information such as how many times your surgeon has performed a given operation, or what the operation’s success rate is.

You might also want to ask whether your surgeon is board-certified; look for a certificate on the wall from a major national spine organization. Overall, your surgeon should be transparent about both qualifications and your treatment. Any reluctance to share relevant information should be cause for concern.

A surgeon’s previous patients are also a good resource. By asking prospective surgeons for references from people they’ve previously operated on, you can gain insight into how your recovery process may look. It may also be a good idea to ask for these references from the doctor who referred you to that surgeon, as surgeons themselves may be unlikely to refer you to patients who have unfavorable opinions of them.

Speak to Nurses

In addition to asking questions related to surgeons and their previous patients, you can find valuable information by talking with the surgeon’s nurses. Although nurses do not perform the surgery itself, they are generally the ones who spend the most time with patients. They see the whole process, from preoperative to postoperative care, and they often have much to say about a given surgeon’s successes and failures.

When you meet with nurses, be sure to ask them specific questions, such as who they would select to perform the operation if they themselves needed it, or if the patients they encounter are generally satisfied with their treatment. Ask them to share stories of both success and failure. Nurses are unlikely to give explicit criticisms of a surgeon, but by paying attention to their tone and their choice of words, you can pick up on their opinions. If nurses consistently give favorable opinions of your surgeon’s performance in the operating room, you should feel more confident about your herniated disc treatment.


Talking with healthcare professionals and their former patients is sure to yield valuable information in your search for the right surgeon. However, there are plenty of other sources as well, such as online forums where patients share their experiences with doctors and surgeons. These sites can be a useful tool to gain access to the opinions of a wide range of patients so you can feel more confident in your choice.

But bear in mind that these sources have some drawbacks. First, patients are generally more likely to leave negative opinions than positive ones. Don’t be deterred if your surgeon doesn’t have a long list of glowing reviews. Second, some surgeons have only a handful of ratings, making it difficult to wholly assess their skill. Use these sites only as supplemental resources.

Another way to find out about a given surgeon is simply to ask around. Talk with friends and family involved in the healthcare field to see if they or anyone they know has had any experience with the surgeon in question.

Final Thoughts

Herniated discs can be anything from uncomfortable to unbearable. On top of that, the process of selecting the right treatment can be a headache. Deciding on surgery is an important step, but selecting the right surgeon can be just as important. You may be unsure how to evaluate a prospective surgeon, but if you follow the steps listed above, you will find a great deal of useful information. Be sure to look for a surgeon who is experienced and transparent. And above all, you can never do too much research. So ask as many questions as it takes for you to feel comfortable about your herniated disc treatment.

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