How to Better Support a Loved One Who is Getting Spinal Surgery

The prospect of having spinal surgery can be a distressing. Surgery can be complicated. Beyond physical and emotional preparation, there’s the physical and emotional response to the surgery itself, whether it be minimally invasive discectomy or more complex procedures.. Spinal surgery can be difficult not only for the patients but also their families. If you or a family member has plans to pursue spinal surgery, make sure to take the time to research and prepare for the experience. There is information to know about the treatment, expectation after surgery, and the recovery process. As a family member, you may be an important part of the process.

Here are a few basic starting points for those non-patients looking to educate themselves on the process:

1) The internet can be a useful resource when doing the due diligence before surgery.
If you are unsure where to start when concerned about surgery preparation, Google may be the appropriate next step for you; but be wary: not all sites are built the same, and accurate information in this circumstance is essential. It is important to choose reliable medical sites such as or

2) Your mere presence in medical situations can offer significant help. According to, patients remember between 30 to 50 percent of verbal information they are given about their surgery, probably due to stress. Accompanying your loved one and taking notes during visits to the doctor may later prove a big help. Also, bring a list of questions that you may have; the average patient only asks about four questions over a 15-minute meeting with the doctor, and still feels as if s/he has not received enough information. Your questions may allow your loved one to develop a stronger understanding of the situation.

3) Lastly, awareness of what you do not know is important. That is where the internet can be most helpful. There are support groups for all kinds of spinal surgery, and sometimes connecting with someone who went through the same situation can be the most helpful post-surgical psychological decision. If you, as a non-patient, are feeling stressed by the responsibilities you have taken on, then there are support groups out there for you, too. These groups require little effort to join and can help you through your darker moments. Coping with or finding relief from your pain through support groups can be the most uplifting aspect of your surgical journey if you allow it to be.

Spinal surgery can be a distressing prospect. Following postoperative instructions carefully, asking the right questions, and being an educated consumer are all keys to a successful experience. Dr. Brian Gantwerker is a fellowship-trained spinal neurosurgeon who will be there every step of the way. 

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