The success of any surgical procedure depends on a number of factors. Above all, it’s important to have realistic expectations about what can and can’t be accomplished in your own case. Back surgery won’t be “successful” if there’s a large gap between what the patient wants and what the surgeons intends.
If you’ve had a discotomy or a relatively small decompression procedure to relieve leg symptoms, you should notice an almost immediate effect. Many patients wake up for the surgery feeling little or no leg pain.
If you’ve undergone fusion (spinal stabilization), the healing phase is longer. You may not be aware of any immediate improvement in your back pain. The post-operative back pain—discomfort caused by the incision—will get better fairly quickly, but the symptoms that led you to seek surgery may take longer to resolve. Some patients do see a rapid improvement (particularly with the artificial discs or motion-sparing devices) but a positive change may only be less of your typical pain. It can take several months before you know the final outcome of the operation. For the operation to be judged a success, however, something good should start to happen in the immediate post-operative period. If you had absolutely no change in your symptoms for six months or a year and then you started to feel better, chances are the surgery had nothing to do with your recovery.