Anyone who is discussing the potential for spine surgery with a specialist should expect to be asked certain questions alongside the basics such as name, age, address, and insurer. While things like marital status, religion, race or ethnicity might seem irrelevant and invasive, these can all give your specialist valuable information regarding your support network, risk of certain diseases linked to genetics, and your engagement in particular activities.
Your personal medical history will be discussed in some detail during your spine surgery consultation, and your specialist will usually ask you about your close relatives, i.e. your mother, father, spouse, children, and any siblings. The kind of information may include their health status or year and cause of death. They may also ask you about your grandparents, children, and cousins, so it is good to have an idea of any medical issues faced by these family members.
Things that are useful for your surgeon or specialist to know include any family history of arthritis, including age at which symptoms appeared, type, severity, and how it was treated. Specific information about neck pain, back pain, or spine problems is also important, including age of onset, diagnosis, treatment, and, if possible, the details of the relative’s physician and clinic.
You will also be asked if any close family members have ever suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure, or liver, lung, kidney, heart, stomach, bowel, blood, bone, joint, muscle, stroke, or nervous system disorders. These conditions may affect the risk of certain spine issues, the manifestation of symptoms, diagnosis, and the effects and risks of treatments.
When looking at your own medical history, you will usually be asked to detail any other chronic, recurrent, or current health issues (known as comorbidities), including any relevant diagnoses and the treatment you are receiving. You should also let your spine specialist know if you have had any recent infections, especially lung or bladder infections. You will also be asked about any problems with control of your bowel and bladder as these can indicate cauda equina syndrome which may require immediate surgery to prevent permanent nerve damage.
Knowing the name and contact details of your physician is helpful in case your specialist needs to discuss any modifications in treatment or ways in which surgery could affect your other condition, or any tests that they may have carried out which could be relevant to your spine issue.
If you do have other health issues, it is helpful to be able to tell your spine specialist what medications you are taking (name, dosage, reason for treatment), including any prescription and non-prescription medications. This means things like fish oil capsules, garlic pills, muscle rubs, and such as these can all interact with other medications and affect surgical conditions.
During your spine surgery consultation questions will usually be asked about any side effects or interactions you have experienced with specific medications or treatments. Knowing this information now can help your consultant form a better view of your overall health and inform their diagnosis and suggested course of treatment.
Lifestyle and Diet Questions
You will likely be asked about your intake of alcohol, whether you smoke or have smoked in the past, what kinds of exercise and hobbies you do, how often, and if there are any activities you have had to forego recently. The consultant is likely to ask about your typical diet, and any recent changes in food intake or energy levels. Details of any planned or unplanned weight fluctuation are also potentially helpful for your spine specialist, and you should be sure to mention any surgeries you have had, whether they are related to your spine problem or not.
Some Surprisingly Relevant Questions
Some questions your spine specialist may ask are likely to appear irrelevant at first, but they are not asking simply to be nosy or chatty. The answers to these unexpected questions may also help your consultant in their diagnosis and formulation of a treatment plan. You may be asked about your education and employment history, as well as the occupation (if any) of your spouse (if any). They will also enquire as to the nature of your current job, its physical demands and hours worked per week, and also any injuries or illnesses acquired through work. You may be asked about your relationship with your manager(s) and your job satisfaction, as well as your relationship with your spouse, children, and wider family.
Questions may be asked about any stress, anxiety and depression you have experienced in the past or are currently experiencing. Information about your diagnosis and treatment can help your consultant round out the picture of your overall health and things that may be caused by or contribute to your spine problem. The general health and happiness of your spouse, children, parents and siblings or other close family may also be helpful to know.
Many of these questions tie into the issue of sleeplessness, which is common among those with back problems. A lack of sleep can both be caused by and cause back pain, making this an important area of discussion. Certain diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, may cause symptoms such as nerve pain and disordered sleep, meaning that these need to be ruled out, or properly managed, in order to determine the true impact of an underlying spinal abnormality.
Wrapping it all up
As you might imagine, getting through all of these questions can be something of an ordeal, meaning that it helps to know in advance how to answer the questions and to keep your answers concise, but without omitting potentially important information. If you are unsure as to why you are being asked a certain question it can help to ask the specialist what their rationale is, allowing you to elaborate if needed.
Once the spine specialist has all this information, has carried out a physical examination, and has the details of your spine condition and current symptom profile, they will have a much clearer view of the factors affecting your health and the possible complications of any treatments they may propose.