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Am I a Candidate for Spinal Surgery?

By April 19, 2023No Comments

If neck or back pain is getting in the way of living your life, you might be wondering if spinal surgery is the answer. The only way to know for certain is to schedule an evaluation with a spine specialist like Dr. Daniel Choi

At Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island, our initial line of treatment is always conservative. This may include activity modification, medication, physical therapy, or spinal injections. However, if conservative treatment fails to provide relief and you still suffer from chronic neck or back pain, you could be a candidate for a surgical procedure. 

Several diagnostic tests help our expert Long Island spine surgeon determine if spinal surgery is right for you. For your peace of mind, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of what to expect when you visit Dr Choi. 

How Is A Back Injury Diagnosed?

Wondering how a back or neck injury is diagnosed? At Spine Medicine and Surgery of Long Island, diagnosing diseases and disorders of the spine begins with a physical exam and a thorough review of your health history. Dr. Choi will ask questions to understand your symptoms and when they started. He’ll then evaluate your pain levels, reflexes, range of motion, muscle strength, and reactions to sensory stimuli. 

Diagnostic Tests For Spine Disorders

The next step is generally ordering diagnostic tests, including imaging. This lets our Long Island orthopaedic spine surgeon, Dr. Choi, visualize your spinal anatomy, confirm his diagnosis, determine the extent of your condition, and develop a treatment plan. Tests could include:


An X-ray is a safe, painless diagnostic test that uses a small amount of radiation to create an image of your neck or back. An X-ray can show issues with spinal alignment, fractures, bone spurs, osteoporosis, and slipped discs. X-rays can also detect arthritis.

For neck pain, Dr. Choi may order a cervical spine X-ray. It will cover the seven vertebrae in your neck area, the first vertebrae of your thoracic spine, and the disk spaces between them. For mid-back issues, a thoracic spine x-ray may be needed to visualize the 12 thoracic (chest) vertebrae. 

A lumbar spine X-ray is typically used for patients experiencing low back pain. A lumbar spine X-ray includes the vertebrae in the lower part of the spine, known as the lumbar region, and the sacrum (the area connecting the spine to the pelvis). 

image of x-ray

CT scan of spine

Computed tomography, also known as a CT scan, is a diagnostic medical imaging test. Similar to traditional x-rays, a CT scan of your spine will produce pictures of the inside of your body. However, it provides a higher level of detail and 360-degree views. 

A CT scan can clearly and accurately capture the bony structure of the spinal vertebrae.

MRI of the spine

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a non-invasive way for your spine specialist to examine problems with your spinal cord, nerves, bone marrow, and soft tissue. An MRI produces high-resolution images of structures within the body using radio frequencies, a powerful magnet and a computer. 

An MRI of the lumbar spine may be taken to help decipher the cause of low back pain, leg pain, or any weakness and numbness you are experiencing, while an MRI of the thoracic spine will focus on the mid-back. For neck conditions, you may need an MRI of your cervical spine. 

An MRI can be helpful for visualizing degenerated or herniated discs, narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis), abscesses, tumors, compressed nerves, injuries and more.  

Electrodiagnostic tests

If you’re experiencing numbness, pain, tingling, and/or weakness in the neck, back, arms, or legs, electrodiagnostic tests could be needed. The two most common are an electromyography (EMG) and a nerve conduction study. The procedures are sometimes performed at the same time. Electrodiagnostic tests can help diagnose compressed or pinched nerves, damaged nerves, muscle disorders and other conditions.

What is a nerve conduction study?

A nerve conduction study will assess how strong and fast the electrical activity is in a nerve, or nerves. During the exam, electrode patches are stuck to your skin over the nerve that Dr. Choi suspects is causing your issues. 

A tiny, relatively painless electrical impulse is sent through the nerve and the nerve’s response is recorded. If the electrical signal travels through the nerve more slowly than it should, it can indicate that the nerve is damaged.

The electrical impulses cause a brief, mild tingling feeling. There are no lasting side effects from the test and it’s not painful.

What is an EMG test?

An EMG test is used to measure how well your muscles respond to nerve signals from the brain. One or more small needles (electrodes) are inserted into the muscle. The electrodes measure the electrical activity of your muscles at rest and during use. 

During the procedure, you may be asked to contract the muscle in question. For example, you might be instructed to lift and flex your leg. You may feel mild discomfort when the needle is inserted, but most patients have no issue with the test. 

Do I Need Spine Surgery?

Once you’ve had an exam and completed any necessary diagnostic tests, Dr. Choi will develop an accurate diagnosis and a personalized treatment plan. While most patients will not need spinal surgery, you could be a candidate if you’re diagnosed with one of the following conditions and conservative measures have failed:

  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spinal instability
  • Compression of the spinal cord and/or nerve roots
  • Herniated disc (damaged disc)
  • Spondylolisthesis (displacement of vertebral discs)
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) that is causing pain and weakness
  • Scoliosis (abnormal curvature of the spine)
  • Spinal cord tumor
  • Bone spurs that are putting pressure on the spinal cord

If neck or back surgery is needed, you’re in good hands with Dr. Choi. He’s a pioneer in revolutionary, minimally invasive procedures and techniques, including robotic spine surgery, cervical disc replacement and dualPortal™ endoscopic spine surgery. By leveraging technology and advances in his field, he aims to make surgery safer and more precise with a potentially shorter recovery period. 

Find Out If You Are A Candidate For Spinal Surgery

Nobody should have to deal with debilitating neck or back pain. As a board-certified orthopaedic spine surgeon in Long Island, Dr. Choi can get to the bottom of your symptoms and put you on the path to relief. To find out if you’re a candidate for spine surgery, schedule a consultation at our Ronkonkoma or Garden City, NY office today!

Dr. Daniel Choi

Author Dr. Daniel Choi

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