To cut or not to cut that is the question. I remember sitting in class trying to decide whether or not I should call the doctor back about getting my first round of Cortisol shots canceled. I didn’t want to have surgery on my back so I figured that was the next best thing. After all, that’s what my “doctor” said after reviewing my MRI. Back Surgery is serious business that should be considered a last resort if and only if you have exhausted all of your options. So, how do you know if you’re a good candidate for back surgery? In today’s post I want to show you the exact signs to watch for along with the steps you should take before you under go the knife!

Hear me out on this, I’m no doctor and I am not taking a stand against surgery but I talk to more and more people who have under gone surgery who are miserable and full of regrets. I ask everyone I talk to if anyone ever talked to them about alternative ways of healing such as exercise or evaluating their movement habits and painful positions. 9 times out of 10 they say no.  All I am asking for is for you to consider taking surgery out and exhausting every other option before going under the knife.

I read somewhere that 95% of back surgery patients could have gotten along fine without surgery if they had used contemporary repairing techniques similar to that of the McGill method. If you think about it, it makes sense. Not everybody, but most bad backs are a direct results of poor movement function and mechanics. Doing too much of one thing wrong for a long time is bound to bring damage.

It has taken me a few years to really get this but think about it. We are born with a healthy spine. We go through life with the same spine yet we begin to develop postures and habits that take us away from the God given ability to function and move as freely as we did as kids. Decades go by and we are now dealing with the aches and pains of living with those habits. Moving in ways that our joints were not designed to function then we complain as they begin to give up and cause us pain. Once the pain is in full force we hire a surgeon to cut bone or tissue out of our spine in hopes of that removing the pain. Even if it did temporarily work guess what, you still don’t know how to move properly. You still have the same bad habits. What do you think is stopping you from getting back into the same position as before? This is why surgery is never a guarantee for a lifetime of pain free movement. You may feel better for a few years but as the joints surrounding the surgery site begin to break down your back in the doctors office scheduling your 2nd back surgery.

Back surgery should be your last option.
Back surgery should be your last option.

3 Signs You May Need Back Surgery

  1. When it comes to neurological issues you don’t want to take these things lightly. If you lose bladder or bowel control seek a specialist.

  2. Often times we break bones, undergo serious trauma and damage tissues that need to be stabilized. This is where surgery comes in.

  3. Unrelenting pain. I’m not talking about my back has been hurting for the past few weeks. Sever back pain keeping you from completing basic daily activities that last for a long period of time, need to be addressed.


The reality of back surgery.

I have never personally undergone back surgery but it’s because of the information I am about to share that I haven’t. I don’t think I am some hard headed tough guy that thinks he can stick it out until they bury me.  It’s unfortunate that I have the back that I do but it’s a blessing that I have been smart enough to really take the time to become my own back mechanic.

This is all I really want for you.


Before you under go the knife you need to consider a few things.

1. If your back pain comes and goes then you’re not a good candidate for back surgery. Instead, dig a little deeper and find out why some days are bad while others are good. Take notes of these specific activities and movements so that you can reference them later.

2. Just because you have seen a chiropractor and a physical therapist doesn’t mean you have exhausted all of your options. Just like some doctors, there are therapists who you couldn’t trust as far as you can throw them. Not that they are out to intentionally hurt you, but some don’t really take the time to understand your pain mechanisms like they should. They are just quick to give you print outs of generic strengthening exercises. The cool part is there are more good guys than bad, you just have to seek them out for yourself. Don’t just go off of what your friend said or the first name that pops up in your google search.

3. Even after your specialist reviews your MRI don’t take it as the gospel. This almost makes me sick to my stomach thinking about it. I was seeing one of the “best” “back surgeons” in my area and after looking over my second MRI he couldn’t even explain why the damage I had was causing me pain. I had no disc fluid pressing on any nerve or anything, It just looked like the nucleus to my L5-S1 disc had popped and my body just absorbed the liquid. So my disc was thin and black instead having a light colored sack like the rest of them. As much as I know now I can look over those MRI’s and correct where I feel he want wrong. regardless of whether or not I am right or wrong with my own diagnosis he never took the time to explain his. He just said your only real option is to fuse the discs together.

Is this your back surgeon?
Is this your back surgeon?

5 Things to look out for when finding the best back surgeon.


1.  Finding a good surgeon is not a popularity contest. The best way to really find out how good a doctor is, is to ask the people who work behind the scenes. Ask the nurses and therapists who are put in charge of caring for the individuals these doctors are operating on. What is their success rate like? Ask about their long term success rate. Years and years later are these patients back getting surgery number two or starting a new cycle of therapy?

2. Third time isn’t a charm. You want to find a surgeon who has successfully done the surgery he is suggesting, numerous times. As if he were to specialize in patients just like you.

3. Options are your friend. Your doctor should talk about options before he talks about surgery. You want him to voluntarily suggest alternate treatment options that don’t involved surgery. A lot of surgeons tend to be fixers. They find something they think is broke and they believe they can fix it to take the pain away. Fear any doctor who is close minded about any alternative approaches.

4. Ask question. Your goal is to ask at least 5 minutes worth of questions. This will guarantee him having to go over the allotted time he has set of each patient in a day. haha  Look for any changes in mood when you confront him with questions. If he gets frustrated or impatience with your list of concerns then he may not be the best guy for you. I remember when I went and saw Dr. ^%$* here in Virginia, with every question I asked he seemed to get more and more short as if he wanted me to just accept this diagnosis and schedule my next appointment to go over surgery options. It was so frustrating because it costs me time and money to wait in that stupid office of his to not even be able to ask all my questions. Write them down. Ask them one at a time. Make him kick you out, you are not asking too many questions!

5. Watch out for those “new invasive” techniques the surgeons try to sell you on. The last thing you want to be is a test dummy. Oh and if you do have surgery and it’s not a success, it’s not because your due for a second one. The odds of you needing a repeat surgery are slim to none. You may not have needed it to begin with!


So if surgery isn’t an option than what do we do? 


In the words of Dr. Stuart McGill, become your own back mechanic. Follow the steps to pining down your pain mechanisms, erasing these poor movement patterns and re establishing a healthy foundation of proper movement and a stable spine. If you want to find out more on how to do this then join everyone else who gave up on the white coats and are trying it their own way. 

I have thousands of dollars wrapped up in MRI’s and specialists visits and have found more relief from my pain over the last 4 years not having step foot in a doctors office. It’s all about having the right tools to get started and staying the course!


If you have had surgery what kind of surgery was it and was it successful? Let me know below!






Reference: McGill, S (2015) Back Mechanic. Ontario, Canada: Backfitpro Inc



2 thoughts on “The Dangerous Truth to Having Back Surgery

  1. Hi William,

    I accidentally bumped into your blog and found it very useful and psychologically relieving. The fact that you had a disc herniation and have been able to almost completely recover naturally is quite encouraging.

    Here is my story: I have had short episodes of back pain ever since my mid twenties (33 now). However last year, during a squatting session I felt sharp pain. Recovered partially, went back to squatting –the reasoning behind being that in the past squats and deadlifts had actually HELPED me recover from those short episodes of pain–but this time it didn’t go so well. Long story short, I ended up in 24 hour unrelenting pain for about 4 months before I decided to undergo microdiscectomy. I had no neurological deficits, my bowel and bladder movements were normal, however I couldn’t walk half a mile without being in severe pain ,and what was even more worrisome, without dizziness, lightheadedness and overall body weakness (maybe these latter symptoms came from the fact that I had completely stopped exercising by then).

    Anyway I did the surgery, and for the first 4 months my recovery had been going really well. Did only pelvic tilts, half-supermans and stairs for some cardio workout. However, at the 4th month mark I got bored of these and started doing yoga and some bodyweight squats, including single-legged half-squats (like a third of a full pistol). The pain has come back ever since (I am at 7 months post op now). But not at the side that was operated on. Now my left side hurts. Not as gravely as the right side did before surgery, but it’s quite annoying and debilitating (I cannot walk too much now either, while 3 months ago I could walk 5 miles easily).

    I am not going to go through another surgery. I am trying to see how I can heal this naturally, if possible. But I am at a complete loss as regards exercising. Especially the lower body exercises. I saw you recommend lunges. Yes, but that becomes boring and ineffective soon, given that I am too much afraid to use any weights.

    I keep asking myself what I did wrong to reinjure myself after my spine had been doing so well at the 4th month mark. Bodyweight squats and single-legged half-squats. And I did them all with abdominal bracing and good back position.

    What are your suggestions for me right now? I am now at about my 10th episode of the left side pain that leaves me in bed for the greatest part of the day. Afraid that any lower-body exercise, including excessive walking might hurt me even more. I was cleaning the bathroom the other day and my back felt sore afterwards. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

    Thanks for your helpful advice.


    1. Hey Ana,

      I’m sorry to hear about your experience so far. Recovery can be extremely frustrating and long winded. If I were you, I would start back from scratch. First maybe get a second opinion on the potential issue. A surgeon may not be the best option. Finding a specialist who can help you with body mechanics and movement can be huge. If it’s damage your dealing with than having someone who can look at your MRI a little closer will help. Next, I would take out all exercise and see if focusing on my basic daily movements (posture, sitting, standing, sleeping etc.) can shed some light on maybe some issues I am having mechanically. The time away from lifting should give your body time to rest 100% and hopefully decrease the sensitivity in that area.

      From there I would slowly add in all those boring and basic exercises back in (even if that means I lose strength and my current level of fitness). You have to keep the sensitivity in that area down. That’s the most important thing. The only grade we have is how we feel. If what your doing (squats, lunges etc.) hurts, than you have to be content with throwing them completely out for now. Not forever just for now. BUT be open to that “for now” being 6+ months maybe even a year. It’s hard for me to even do some basic body weight squats without irritating my lower back at times simply because of the issues I still to this day am working through. I focus a lot of my attention on single leg work. I may never be able to have a bar on my back when I squat but to me that’s worth more then squatting and living with terrible pain every day of my life. It’s really not worth it.

      On a rehabbing back I would be more inclined to stay away from any kind of yoga or more advanced exercise moves as well (even if its the most basic of basic). The area is just too sensitive. Unfortunately, there is only so much I can do through this comment so I would love to be in contact with you as you make these changes. Don’t hesitate to shoot me an email with any questions!

      I hope this helps! Doing things naturally is tough but very rewarding! You just have to get on a path that works best for your specific situation.

      Any way I can help more let me know.

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