Spine Surgery

Although many spine injuries can (and should) be treated without surgery, it is sometimes the best or only remaining option. Neurosurgery traces its history back to the early 1900s. It is the youngest of all the surgical specialties, which may explain at least part of its appeal to medical travelers. Many spine surgery procedures are very new and highly technical. They are practiced by a relative handful of specialists (compared, for instance, to such disciplines as dermatology or oncology), and only the major medical centers of the world are equipped with the latest in equipment. Thus, spine surgery patients may travel not only to save money, but also to seek out a “superstar” neurosurgeon using state-of-the-art equipment.

Where to Go for Treatment

For many spine surgery patients, medical travel means surgery, but it is not always the case. Some who experience back pain, for example, are looking for alternatives not readily available in their home countries. Opportunities for nonsurgical treatments abound, especially in Asia, where Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is well established.

For example, the Jaseng Hospital of Oriental Medicine in Seoul, South Korea, treats a myriad of musculoskeletal conditions and diseases, including serious spinal disorders, without surgery—even when patients can no longer walk due to severe back pain. The hospital employs state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, including MRI and CT scanners, in addition to traditional therapies, which include spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and herbal medicine.

If it’s surgery you need, consider Thailand. The Neurology and Neurosurgery Center of Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok provides the full array of diagnostic, therapeutics, surgical, and rehabilitation services for comprehensive treatment and management of neurological disorders, including spine surgery.

At the Bangkok Neuroscience Center of Bangkok Hospital Medical Center, 12 neurologists and 14 neurosurgeons treat a host of diseases and traumas, including brain and spinal cord injury; tumors of the brain and spinal cord; muscle and nerve diseases; paresthesia of the limbs, trunk, or face; developmental disorders; and genetic anomalies.

At Bangkok Nursing Home (BNH) Hospital, the BNH Spine Center performs complex spinal surgeries of great variety, nearly half of them for international patients. The center’s total artificial disc replacement is a minimally invasive surgery.

Special Considerations

Neurological treatments or surgeries are seldom either “minor” or “elective.” Diseases and disorders of the nervous system produce impairments that are serious enough that, in many cases, they diminish quality of life or threaten survival.

Because most neurosurgeries and major treatments are “high stakes,” patients must be vigilant in noting and reporting possible complications. A few to look out for immediately after spinal surgery are dehydration, leakage of spinal fluid, anemia, urinary retention, intestinal obstruction, pneumonia, blood clots in the veins, or a deficit in movement, speech, or cognitive function indicative of an injury to a nerve. Complications that can develop later include skin breakdown, infection, spinal instability, hardware failure, scar tissue that adheres to nerves and affects their functioning, and more.

Planning Tips

Perhaps no other medical and surgical specialty uses a lexicon as lengthy and complex as that of neurology, and no other field requires such a high level of technical knowledge among its patients. Do you understand, for example, the difference between a microsurgical discectomy, a percutaneous endoscopic lumbar discectomy, and a laparoscopic discectomy? Most people don’t know and don’t need to, but if you are considering disc surgery, that knowledge will become important to you.

Work closely with your doctor to understand your diagnosis and choose an option that is best for you. Be particularly careful to select a facility where excellent English is spoken.

Because spinal conditions are often accompanied by chronic pain, many sufferers use powerful painkillers. If you have developed a dependence on an oral analgesic, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, your out-of-country surgeon may refuse to treat you, or require you to first undergo a program of medical detoxification, which can last up to ten days. This is to ensure that any anesthesia called for during surgery does not carry adverse (potentially fatal) interactions.

Home-Again Tips

Don’t go home too soon, especially if you’ve had brain or spinal surgery. Your neurological specialist will want you to limit your activities while your body heals. Complications from procedures involving the brain, spine, and spinal cord can be very serious, so your doctor needs to be sure you are completely well before sending you on a long journey home.

Once home, you’ll likely need continuing physical therapy and perhaps speech and occupational therapy. Follow your therapists’ instructions carefully and practice your exercises conscientiously. You’ll gradually regain strength and mobility, both physical and mental.

Related Patient Stories

Last updated on 29 August 2016