Poor posture, strenuous exercise, and unnatural movements may stress the spine and result in deterioration. You may experience injuries or wear-and-tear that must be addressed by spine surgery. If your spine becomes damaged, it can be excruciatingly painful and restrict your movement, preventing you from being able to participate in your favorite activities and severely impacting your quality of life. Beyond pain relief and mobility, benefits of spine surgery include reduction in prescription drugs, ability to return to work, improved productivity, better fitness, stronger movement, and heightened mood.

A strong outcome from a spinal operation relies on selecting the right doctor. You can follow a few simple steps to find a surgeon you can trust with your back.

Clarify if the doctor is an orthopedic surgeon or neurosurgeon. Either of these two types of surgeons have the expertise to perform most spinal operations (although the former typically addresses tumors, while the latter usually treat deformity).

Verify how much of the practice is spine operations. Doctors who center their work on the spine will tend to use more innovative methods and have greater expertise. One way to check how much surgery a doctor is performing is to see if they belong to the North American Spine Society, since anyone who joins that association must confirm that half or more of their practice is committed to the spine. Another important number to know is how many spinal surgeries the doctor performs annually.

Confirm the credibility and education of the surgeon by checking that they are board-certified. You can check certification with the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) by calling (866) ASK-ABMS. Make sure that the surgeon has certification in neurological or orthopedic surgery, or is at least board eligible in those fields. It is also a good idea to verify how much training the surgeon has received.

When you meet with the surgeon, think about whether they make you feel comfortable and are helpful in addressing your concerns. The doctor should be clear in their responses. Select a doctor who is focused on informing you and helping you determine if the operation is the right choice. The surgeon should explain the challenges involved, along with a balanced view of benefits and risks.

Speak with other patients. Ask if they thought the surgeon was highly skilled and if they would seek additional treatment from them. Verify that the doctor didn’t rush through explanations and treatment, and that it was not difficult to reach them, particularly following the operation. Check that the surgeon’s staff was friendly and helpful.

Speak with other doctors too. It can be helpful to ask other physicians for their perspective. Be aware that doctors will often not want to speak poorly of their peers, in part because negative comments can lead to slander lawsuits. However, a strongly positive assessment is a good sign.

Spinal surgery can improve your mobility, alleviate pain, and allow you to return to work. While picking out the right doctor is fundamental, you can meet with a happy outcome by putting sufficient care into the selection process.